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Embracing the Change: Life in the United States

Thursday | March 7, 2019 | by Deborah Deperio

moving to another country

It takes a lot of courage to start over in a new country. But you might not always feel brave. Processing your emotions is a normal part of the immigration journey, and you are not alone.

Please enjoy the following guest blog post by WES Ambassador Deborah Deperio. Deborah shares a personal story of immigrating to the United States from the Philippines.

She discusses the five stages of grief that she experienced, but ultimately overcame, as she adjusted to living in a new country. And she explains what she learned along the way.


Moving to a different country is a big step. Adjusting to a completely new environment can be an enormous struggle. When I moved to the United States, I realized that my own adjustment followed the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

As we all know, grief is a feeling of deep sorrow that is caused by loss. When I moved to the United States, my family had just lost my childhood home in the Philippines. I was expected to move forward and accept change.

But to reach acceptance, I had to go through the first four stages of grief.

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Denial

I can still remember when the pilot announced that my plane had landed at Washington Dulles International Airport. Although I had made a choice to study and work toward a brighter future, I could not believe that I was in the United States! Had I really left my loved ones in my home country? I can still remember telling myself that it was not true. I reminded myself that I could go back to my family, who supports me, anytime I want.

Anger

A week after my arrival, I was still jet-lagged and unable to sleep. I had to force myself to go to the school where I planned to enroll. Then, once I got there and saw all of the requirements, I backed out. I blamed myself. I thought: Immigrating was the wrong decision! I wondered if everything would have been better if I had stayed in the Philippines with my family and friends. I was so stressed that I even became distant with my father and sister, who are here with me in the United States.

Bargaining

During that time, all I could do was pray and ask for a sign that all my difficulties would work out in the end. I thought of going back to the Philippines, because staying in the United States made me feel like a failure. Everything in this country seemed so complicated. All I wanted to do was go back to my country. But going back was no longer an option.

Depression

I procrastinated for almost three weeks before I made the decision to keep going. During that time, I would stay up all night thinking about the happy life that I used to have back home, compared to the life that I had now. I cried every night because I believed that I had made the wrong decision—and it was too late. I kept my feelings to myself, so no one really knew that I was depressed. I wore a smile every time I spoke with my family and friends, even though deep down I felt hopeless and sad.

Acceptance

I do not know exactly when or how it happened, but one day I woke up feeling better. Suddenly I had the motivation to do everything one step at a time. I was accepted to Northern Virginia Community College, where I met amazing people who were willing to help me. I realized that living in this country is not that bad if I just give it a chance.

Studying helped me see that this is the country where my future lies—and I have the choice of embracing it and enjoying life, or regretting my decision to immigrate and being miserable.

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Comparing immigration with grief may be a hard pill to swallow, but the comparison is true. Embracing change is one of the hardest things anyone can do.

We feel safe in our comfort zones, and when we try to step out, we are afraid. Although not every immigrant experiences immigration as a grieving process, for those who do, when we step out of our comfort zones, we do our best to make it through all the stages of grief so we can succeed.

If we see our family and friends as inspirations—not as reasons to give up—we will succeed. And we can become that inspiration for others.

In a new and different country, we may feel like we are at risk of losing our own identity. But we can retain our cultural identity and still grow.

We can share who we are with others: whether they were born in America or came here, like us, from all over the world. We can choose to embrace the challenge of life in the United States.

Immigration is not easy. Adapting to change, like grieving, is a process. But we have already made it this far, and there is no reason for us to stop now, especially knowing that there are people here who support us. There are also people who face the same battles we fight every day. Sometimes the best thing is to stop fighting and embrace change.

I choose to accept that this place is my home away from home.

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Deborah Deperio

Deborah Deperio, a WES Ambassador, is a student at Northern Virginia Community College.