We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofRose Njeri

When I was 11 years old my mom and I moved to the U.S from Kenya. We moved to Lowell, Massachusetts because we had heard there were many Kenyans and we were searching for a place where we didn’t feel disconnected to our home country. 

I thought I would make a lot of friends here and specifically Kenyan friends. All my life I grew up in a Christian household. In Kenya we attended church every Sunday hence why we quickly found a church in Lowell to continue with our way of life. My mom’s new friends introduced me to their daughters and other young people they knew. They showed me around church and we hung out for one Sunday, but we never made a real connection. From the first service at our new church, I realized it was going to be difficult to make friends. I felt all the kids my age had grown up together and built strong bonds that there was no more space for me. Other teens my age were always conversing among themselves about their schools, but because I was new to the U.S and I wasn’t familiar with the schools in Lowell, I didn’t feel like I could hold a conversation with them. 

In Lowell, I started attending middle school and began making friends from Cambodia, Liberia, Puerto Rico but at the time I didn’t really value or understand these friendships because I was bothered by the fact that I didn’t have friends at church. Having Kenyan friends was familiar and I thought it would make me feel like I never left home. 

I struggled to make Kenyan friends at church throughout 7th grade, my first full year in the U.S. It got to a point where I didn't like going to church. I didn't have anyone to hang out with after the service. I would sit next to a basketball court in the church compound where my fellow teens would gather to catch up, because I didn't want adults questioning why I was sitting alone, but I would not talk to any of my age mates. It was an uncomfortable situation. I felt as if I was invading the other teens' space. I was always around them, but never really participated in conversations. I worried they might think I was eavesdropping on their conversations. At the time it was the best that I could have done besides going to my mom’s car after service.

A year after being in Lowell I finally made a Kenyan friend at church. We discovered that we both loved cross country and that was the start of our friendship. Though she attended another church every other Sunday it was nice to finally have someone to talk to. 

Eventually, my expectation that I had to make a lot of Kenyan friends came to an end. I realized I depended too much on others for my happiness. I started working to get myself to a happier place in life which started by appreciating the friendships I had made with my schoolmates from Cambodia, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Kenya, and Ivory Coast.  Three years later I’ve continued making new friends from Gabon, Congo, Tanzania, and even America. Going to church now is not as difficult as it used to be. I've begun focusing more on worship, than making friends. I do talk to my age mates at church and even though I’ve never found a common ground with most of them like I thought I would, I now understand that it’s normal. After all friends shouldn’t be based on nationality they should be based on people who understand you and who strive to make you a better person.