Virginia, US
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| Tarissa Wareley

My Migrant Story: Immigrating as a Dependent

My immigration journey started at birth. Being born in Durban, South Africa, my Brazilian parents’ first concern was to ensure that I would have Brazilian citizenship. My birth certificate was couriered to the Embassy of Brazil in Pretoria and on South African soil I became a Brazilian citizen. Even though I was born in South Africa, South African immigration law does not allow me to become a citizen of South Africa because neither my mother nor father are South African citizens or permanent residents in South Africa. They lived in South Africa from 1990 to 1999, and although they qualified for permanent residency, they did not have the assistance they needed to apply for it. As a result, when I later decided to come to South Africa for university, I had to apply for a visa to live in my place of birth.

After living in South Africa for nine years, my family returned to Brazil for a year before travelling to Budapest, Hungary. Here I experienced a post-Communist society for the first time. I went to a Hungarian school for one year where I needed to learn Hungarian as it was the native language and only one student in the class could communicate with me in English. There I was, a Brazilian, learning Hungarian while trying to finish the third grade. While it was difficult in the beginning to learn and understand, after six months I was speaking and even reciting poems in Hungarian.

When families are relocating, it is easy to forget how the move will affect the dependents, especially children. Although my parents offered the best support possible given that they did not know the language themselves, it was a challenge to adapt to my new environment, especially not being able to communicate effectively with my schoolmates. Luckily, my parents’ saw that a year in Hungarian school was enough and transferred me to an international school called the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB). Here, I flourished and was still able to learn about the Hungarian culture while studying in English, a language I was more comfortable with and that would give me more opportunities in the future. Studying there with students from different parts of the world shaped me to be part of the international community.

Renewing our Hungarian visas on our own used to be an all-day event. I would have to miss an entire day of school to go to the immigration offices to submit our applications. It was a stressful day for my parents as they prepared our applications and ensured their eligibility. I, on the other hand, spent the day doing my schoolwork or, alternatively, just reading. Visiting the immigration office always turned out to be a long and tedious process. Although the immigration process is your first experience when moving to another country, it is not just about the mechanics of relocation. The very fact that you are an immigrant shapes virtually everything you experience in your new home.

When immigrating, your experiences will be both negative and positive. Adapting to a new culture is never easy. Children may seem unaware of the challenges of moving to a different country, but rest assured that they are quite aware of the difficulties, even if they do not articulate their feelings. Relocating may be stressful for the entire family given the language and cultural differences. However, as someone who relocated to a different country three times as a child, I can definitely say that the positives outweigh the negatives.  

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