Living with Family as a Foreign Student in the US

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On July 25, 2021, Arizona State University welcomed 14 fellows from 13 countries to participate in a 10-month academic study and professional development experience at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This made it the largest cohort in Cronkite’s 12-year history as one of the 14 US colleges to host the Humphrey Fellowship Program. While at it, this has also been the cohort with the largest number of dependents. Five fellows had their spouses and children join them in the City of Phoenix on this very memorable journey. Johnson Mayamba, a Humphrey Fellow from Uganda, shares what his colleagues had to say about their experiences so far, biggest challenges, solutions and advice to future fellows who would like to have their families join them too.

Tasneem ALzamara from West Bank, mother of three daughters and a son

It does not seem like any experience I have been through in my life’s journey. This is the first time I brought my entire family with me abroad. That happened because of the pandemic. The fear of leaving them alone thousands of miles away makes it extremely impossible to reach out to them in case of emergencies. My major challenge here was searching for a house that fits the Phoenix Housing Law. There were limited apartments with unaffordable prices. Phoenix is one city that does not favor families. I did all the necessary research on housing but there were not many choices for me. Good enough we eventually found a place that would accommodate us. Besides the housing challenges, City of Phoenix is a great place to live in. If you have dependents and have made some good savings, please come with them and experience living in the U.S. You will also find Phoenix to be an extra warm city than what you imagine when you arrive but that gets better starting in October when the temperature rates are around 30 degrees Celsius. Explore everything and it will be an unforgettable experience. Having gone through it all, I am very qualified to help you navigate the housing challenges, especially if you have dependents.

Gahyeok Lee from South Korea, father of two daughters

For me, I have focused on my family life and cultural experience instead of the academic life. I tried to visit new places as many as I could. I am making the good use of the Culture Pass available at ASU Library. I am always thinking about where to visit for free. Caring for my lovely wife and daughters in a foreign land is the best life experience I have had. Food, children’s school system and process of paediatrics, everything is different compared to what we are used to. The biggest challenge for me has been the rapid price rise. Your responsibilities and lifestyle determine the amount of money you will need.  To comfortably live in Phoenix, you need a car, yet the prices for used cars are crazy. House rent is even crazier. Even the McDonald’s price is flying like a rocket. In short, you need more money away from what the scholarship gives. I have just adjusted and endured the situation because this is what I chose. But then, these challenges are a good opportunity to experience foreign culture. According to my deep consideration and investigation, thoroughly plan how to care for your dependents. Due to the pandemic and crazy prices, the situation changes any time. If you plan to bring your dependents along, and can come to Phoenix first; spend enough time here to study the situation as you do your research on suitable housing, schools and cars. After everything is prepared well, then invite them.

Elira Çanga from Albania, mother of two sons and a daughter

Being a Humphrey Fellow is something you don’t realize until you are here and start kind of “a new life” for the next 10 months. Everything changes; the rhythm of the day, engagements, new experiences and paths like new classes or volunteering activities. It is truly a very interesting experience, makes you very busy, opens a new window to the world for you and gives you a new perspective. I found it to be an inspiring experience, loved being so engaged and having always new activities to do or meeting so many wonderful colleagues, friends and media professionals. It is very rewarding experience. When it comes to bringing and having the family here with you – this is quite a new adventure and very unique for the family to experience as well. But it comes with some challenges, especially with finding schools for kids, preparing them to communicate with so many people from different cultures and communicate in a new non-native language for them.

My biggest challenge relates with having kids adjust to the new “life” for the next 10 months. Registration at the school is the smallest challenges – instead starting the first grade in a new country, in a new language with brand new friends for Martin, my son, 7 years old – was in the beginning the biggest challenge for our family. With the passing of time, he adjusted well, started communicating in English, made new friends, shared more and now he loves going to the school. However, my other two children adjusted quickly and felt well in this new environment. The other challenges are also related to finding time for them, check on their school assignments and engagements, and balance between my engagements and their free time.

Indeed, finding that balance is easier said than done. I would say this has been a continuous effort to get the most of my Humphrey experience – classes, meetings, exploring, public speaking engagements and activities – and make my family get the most of this experience here as well – learning English, finding new friends and exploring new places. Going back to school requires dedication and engagement, exploring this city requires time and well-prepared plan. What I have learnt here is that planning everything well ahead is so fruitful and convenient. This is one of the most important takeaways. To future fellows with families, this is a unique opportunity for you to invest in yourself but also for the whole family to explore a new country, city and a new way of life – enjoying it together is really amazing. Some challenges like language cannot be avoided; you will go through them especially if you have young children. But I promise you it will pass very soon. Try to enjoy to the maximum, travel new places and explore new sites. Arizona has a unique landscape and fantastic weather. Always remember, this would be a unique fantastic year that you will always remember and talk about.

Hyuntaek Lee from South Korea, has a son

My experience was not bad at the beginning. As a fellow, I learned fresh knowledge and insights for new media and the U.S. journalism. As a dad, I tried to become a friend-like parent to my son. I have tried to visit many places in and out of Arizona with my wife and son. The biggest challenge was helping my son adapt to his new school. Since my son is not a native speaker of English, language was a big barrier. It took about three months for him to somewhat overcome this barrier. I try as much as I can to coach him on all the homework he is given. I share an hour each weekday for my son’s homework. In order to support my son mentally and show my commitment towards the school, I have done volunteer works for the elementary school once a week. I work for lunch box distribution for kids. Therefore, if your children are not native English speakers, prepare to help them learn and adapt. English skills are not improved without efforts, prepare in advance and enjoy the full education here. Pay attention and support your kid’s education in the U.S. too. It will be the most invaluable asset for any child.

Bálint Fabok from Hungary, has a daughter and son

This is my third time spending a longer period abroad, but I sense that our current stay in the U.S has shaped my personality the most. After the lockdowns due to the pandemic, it is especially a unique opportunity to view the world and myself from a different perspective. Thanks to the positive and encouraging environment. I came with my wife and our two children. My personal and family’s integration was surprisingly smooth. My biggest challenge though has been the lack of time. I think I used to spend easily three times more time than I actually have while on this program. It would be so great if I could spend more time on getting to know the American culture, taking part in student life, discovering the city, reading books, and doing sports, among others. I try not to have very high expectations of myself. I try not to focus on things that I lack but to value those things that I am privileged to have.

My advice to future cohorts is for them not to be afraid. They should get prepared and have realistic expectations. There are various limitations and most of them can be solved by money and cautiousness. The stipend won’t be enough for you and your family. You need to have enough savings because most public schools in Downtown Phoenix are among the worst schools in Arizona. Get prepared and apply in advance to place your children in better schools. Besides, Phoenix is designed for cars. I highly recommended you buy a car. The City of Phoenix has extremely unbearable heat until October. In terms of housing, move to an apartment complex with a pool, you will thank me later. The best way to go around these challenges is to contact as many former fellows as possible. Some of them will ignore you but I received the most valuable information when I did that. In my experience, if you are aware of the difficulties and you have realistic expectations, you have nothing to be afraid of. Our kids have been having a great time since the very beginning, mostly due to the inspiringly positive environment that we experienced here. 

About Johnson Mayamba

Johnson Mayamba has more than 10 years of experience as both a reporter and editor. He works for the Daily Monitor, Uganda’s most influential media house. Since the start of his journalism career, Mayamba has focused on championing human rights in Uganda and has won several awards for his reporting. He also works as a media trainer with Journalists for Human Rights. He was the national vice chairman of Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda in 2014-2017. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication from Uganda Christian University and a Master of Philosophy in human rights and democratization from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He hopes to continue training journalists to appreciate human rights reporting and bring light to neglected issues. While at Cronkite, Mayamba hopes to perfect his skills to become a well-rounded journalist and media trainer as well as share ideas and learn from students and his fellow cohorts.

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