Photo by Jade Myers/The Collegian
TR students Negena Fnu, Naima Hussein and Phyo Ko take classes together at TR Campus. They are all from different parts of the world and speak different languages but have become best friends along with two other TR students. Photo by Jade Myers/The Collegian

Desire for better education, opportunities led group to same destination

By Jade Myers/campus editor

Walking by, nobody would think anything of it, but a group of friends at a table on TR Campus have traveled thousands of miles to be at TCC, separated from family. They are different ages, genders, religions and nationalities but are bound together by their shared dream of getting a good education.

TR students Phyo Ko, Negena Fnu, Laisha Verdusco, Daniel Henkel Alvarez and Naima Hussein met three years ago when they all first came to the U.S. from all over the globe, including Myanmar, Afghanistan, Somalia and Mexico.

Ko is from Myanmar and her family wanted to go to Australia, but she ended up coming to the U.S. when she was 17.

“My mom let my two brothers go first, like ahead of us, so they went,” she said. “Three months later, we followed them to Indonesia.”

They were stuck in Indonesia for about three years and then were told to come to the U.S. as refugees so her father could get better treatment for his kidney problems, she said.

Unfortunately, her father did not live long after arriving.

“We arrived in December, at the end of the year, and then in January, he passed away,” she said.

Three years later, she is living with her mother and going to school to get her associate degree. Her brothers are still in Australia, and she hopes to join them one day.

Ko’s story is similar to her friends who all met in the International Newcomer Academy. The INA is a school for international students who need to learn English, she said.

At first, it was hard for the group to communicate because they spoke different languages, but it became a perfect avenue to practice their English, she said.

After a year at INA, they started going to Success High School, a Fort Worth ISD school for students new to the country.

It was there that their friendship really began.

Photo by Jade Myers/The Collegian
TR student Daniel Henkel Alvarez made his journey to the U.S. three years ago from Mexico. He came with his mother and little sister. They left behind two of his older siblings so the rest could have better opportunities, such as an education. Photo by Jade Myers/The Collegian

Like Ko, Henkel Alvarez is also separated from his older siblings.

“When I was 16, I came here to America,” Henkel Alvarez said.

He was able to come with his younger sister and mother, but it took 25 years for his mother’s papers to be processed, he said.

This is an example of the long, yet necessary process many people go through.

His mother first started trying to get her papers when she was a teenager.

“She was, like, 15 years old,” he said. “I wasn’t even born.”

His parents didn’t get married until 2017.

“They could not because if they did the process would take 30 years, almost 40,” he said.

Henkel Alvarez is a dual-credit student from Success High School who takes one class on TR with Verdusco, who is also a dual-credit student.

“I knew I was born in the United States, but I never saw how that was affecting my life until the moment that I finished middle school in Mexico and I started my first year of high school,” Verdusco said. “I started to see the applications for colleges in Mexico, and I always saw they were asking for a specific documentation that I don’t have.”

Verdusco is a U.S. citizen but grew up in Mexico for the majority of her life.

Photo by Jade Myers/The Collegian
TR student Laisha Verdusco grew up in Mexico but was unable to attend college there because she was born in the U.S. Photo by Jade Myers/The Collegian

“I [was] born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2000, and it was like three or six months [after] when my mom decided we needed to go back to Mexico to visit my grandmother because she was sick,” Verdusco said. “And after that, we didn’t come back.”

Her mother and two younger siblings still live in Mexico.

“I’m just with my dad right now because I am the only one of my siblings that has citizenship,” she said.

Because of that, she said she feels a lot  of pressure to be successful.

“My parents had always told me that ‘OK, you are the older one. You will have the most experience and you have this opportunity,’” she said.

Because of this, she grew up with the idea that she needs to provide for her siblings so they can have a better future too.

Fnu also feels the weight of having to be more responsible now that she is going to school.

“You are thinking about how to save money, how to be on your side alone without your parents [and] how to manage your life,” Fnu said.

Fnu is 20 and from Kabul, Afghanistan. She came over with her parents and siblings but had to leave behind her husband.

Her dad worked at the U.S. Embassy, which helped him get their paperwork processed.

“My dad’s trying to have a good education for us and to have a good future,” Fnu said. “He started a case, and we got accepted.”

She even remembers the exact day she arrived in America.

“It was 23rd of March 2015,” she said.

When she first got here, everything was new and exciting, but it was also strange because she did not speak the language.

“When I go to school, everything is getting better,” she said. “Day by day is getting better and getting normal for me.”

Hussein’s father also wanted her to get a better education as he is a teacher and knows the importance of education.

“In my country, it’s kind of like, education, it’s very low quality,” she said. “So, he [told me] ‘What if I send you to there in order to be educated?’”

Hussein is from Somalia in east Africa, and she lives with her mom and five siblings near TR Campus.

Her older sister works so her and her younger siblings can attend school.

Her father is still back in Somalia, but he might be able to reunite with his family soon.

“I’m really glad he’s coming,” she said. “I miss him a lot. He’s kind of my role model.”

Hussein’s bond is strongest with Fnu and Ko as the three of them are always together.

“When I was coming here, I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna be alone my entire life. I will not have any friends or have someone who understands me,’” she said. “They’re my best friends.”