North America

“This is my dream to be in another country.”

“New life. New transition. Really happy.”

Photo: CWS

Beginning Anew in the U.S.

By Edwin Harris, CWS, IRP Durham, North Carolina

Seng Nu “Sandy” Pan and Ni Hluan live in a two-bedroom apartment near Duke University. Their apartment is sparsely decorated, but homey and personal nonetheless. A few months ago, they were both star pupils in an intermediate-level English class housed at the CWS office in Durham, North Carolina.
When asked about their lives before coming to the U.S., their eyes glaze over. The glimmer fades from their cheerful faces and the laughter bouncing off of their apartment walls freezes mid-echo and falls to the ground. After a few long moments, they start to mention their “problems” and “troubles,” but don’t go any deeper. It’s clear that these women have more on their minds than their difficult childhoods.

As teenagers, Sandy and Ni Hluan fled to Malaysia from war-torn Burma in search of safety and stability. In Malaysia, they worked long hours in restaurants. At the end of March 2014, after waiting for longer than four years, they were accepted for resettlement to the United States as refugees. The CWS Immigration and Refugee Program office in Durham, N.C., welcomed them with a comfortable apartment, a warm meal, and resources that they would need to start a new life in the United States. “Everyone at CWS was so polite,” gushes Sandy. Even though the two are happily employed – Sandy as a server in a restaurant, and Ni Hluan as a sushi chef at Whole Foods – they have bigger ambitions.

When they talk about their plans for the future, all the tension from talking about the past melts away; they erupt with enthusiasm. Earlier this year, they both placed into Durham Technical Community College’s highest-level ESL classes. They hope to continue their education at Durham Tech as nursing students. “Going to college is the most important for us,” Sandy says. I ask about life in the U.S. They fall silent for nearly a minute before Sandy speaks up: “I’m very happy to be here. This is my dream to be in another country.” Ni Hluan agrees, “New life. New transition. Really happy.”