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Students share transitions to life in the US through film

The struggles encountered by people who come to this country from other lands, which range from unfamiliarity with the language to the differences in food and culture, were outlined poignantly and sometimes humorously Tuesday night at Lynn Classical's Living in Two Worlds Film Festival.

Four members of the high school community, all of them underclassmen, outlined their experiences in transitioning to the United States in a series of short films produced in tandem with themselves and faculty members Alexis Kopoulos and Afton Dean.

The four, Lit Palacio and Wandy Jiminez from the Dominican Republic, Andrea Argumendo from El Salvador and Bolaji Odusanya of Nigerian descent, talked about the highs and lows of emigrating to the U.S. both in their films and afterward.

"The best part about coming here was that it helped me discover my brave side," said Palacio, a freshman, who had a terrifying experience last year while at Breed.

First of all, she said, "when I first came here, people laughed at me because of the way I sounded. I couldn't speak English very well."

That bothered her at first, but she said she became more determined to learn the language "so that I could prove to people who laughed at me that I'm the same as them, or better."

Still, her harrowing experience was eating a blueberry muffin only to discover she was allergic to blueberries.

"I was afraid to say anything," she said. "I was so shy."

However, she discovered the Breed staff and the nurses were there to help her, and one EpiPen treatment later, she was fine.

"I'm still shy," she said. "At my old school I didn't get involved in any activities. I want to get involved in some so I can connect with more people."

And that, she says, has been the toughest transition: "connecting with people, like I could in my old country."

Jiminez came here a year and a half ago. For her, doing the short film made her feel like an actress with the extra attraction of delivering a message.

And the message, she says, is "you have to be brave to move to another country, and learn a new language and a new culture. You're going somewhere where you know nothing about life here."

Her family came to the United States to live with her grandfather, who had been living here alone for quite some time, she said.

"He was very brave to come here on his own," she said.

One thing she notices about this country versus the Dominican Republic is that "where I came from everyone was always outside playing. You don't see people here go outside and play as much."

Argumendo came to the United States three years ago to start a new life. She hadn't seen her father since she was 4 years old, as he was the first member of the family to emigrate.

"Just getting off the plane and seeing him," she said, "I knew right away it was him."

Her father was at Classical Tuesday night to see his daughter's film.

One of the recurring themes was how often families in these circumstances are separated from one another — and for lengthy periods of time.

"But," said Argumendo, "what it teaches you is that if you really want to do something, you can do it."

Odusanya is in a different boat because he was born in the U.S. — the only member of his family who was.

"But I was raised in the Nigerian way, with Nigerian customs, going to the Nigerian church (in Boston) and eating Nigerian food. I was raised in a different way," he said.

In his 17 years, however, Odusanya has had his share of ups and downs. He has a 2-year-old son, Anthony, which, while terrifying at first, he now acknowledges is the "best thing that ever happened to me."

On the downside, he lost his 27-year-old brother "who was the one who really kept me centered while I was growing up."

Unlike his classmates from Central America and the Caribbean, who talk about the difference in pace of American life, Odusanya said "people seem to grow up a lot faster in Nigeria. They learn things quicker."

Kopoulos, the program coordinator, said the Classical program was funded by grants from the Cummings Foundation and One World Solutions for Living in Stoneham. Anyone can join the Living in Two Worlds group.

"It's a smaller group this year," she said, "which was nice because we could get to know each other better.

"When they first came into the group, it was like they had nothing to say. You could see the growth through the year. Tonight is the most confident I think I've ever seen them."

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