Studying in a foreign country can bring all sorts of complications and nerves when students first arrive in the United States. Getting used to American culture and schooling is stressful for anyone; but for some, there’s an added responsibility to think about—children.
Xia Zou, a new IEI student from China, says there were a lot of factors to consider when bringing her three-year-old daughter, Xinning, to the United States. She and her husband, who is a graduate student at the University, had to figure out how to balance their time to take care of their daughter as well as study.
“On the first day of orientation, on the form we used to tell teachers which classes we wanted to take, I didn’t want to take classes after two o’clock because I needed to pick my daughter up,” Xia said.
Scheduling time is just one aspect of acclimating to a new life in America. Xia’s daughter had to adjust to going to American school for the first time, too. Xinning started preschool in August and was scared to go at first. Now, preschool is something she looks forward to each day.
“Every morning she says, ‘I need to go to preschool! Hurry please, I need to go to preschool!,’” Xia said with a chuckle.
Xinning is learning English at school too, and is even teaching her parents vocabulary of her own. Xia says that although it’s slightly more difficult to juggle everything, overall it is very worth it.
Aigerim Sofiyeva, an IEI student from Kazakhstan, agrees with Xia about juggling life as a student and a parent with her one-year-old son Alinur. She says her husband is also a graduate student at the U of I, so it’s not easy at times; however, having her mother-in-law around to help out during the school week gives her a little break.
“My everyday routine starts at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. So, during that time my mother-in-law takes care of my son,” she said.
Balancing time is just one aspect of starting a new life in America for the time being. Carrying on traditions with her child is something Aigerim values. She wants to make sure Alinur grows up with traditional Kazakh customs, even though he’s in the United States while his parents are studying. Aigerim and her husband even celebrated his first birthday like they would in Kazakhstan.
“You could not imagine how we prepared for his first birthday party; we did some hand made decorations and cooked variety of meal based on our traditional cuisine,” she said.
Aigerim and her family celebrated the next step in Alinur’s life with some of their family and the friends they made here so far.
Though Aigerim was lucky enough to celebrate her son’s birthday here in the United States, others like Aidos Kazankapov, have had to make different sacrifices in order to pursue their education.
Aidos had to leave his wife and son, Tamerlan, at home in Kazakhstan while studying at the IEI this semester. Technology nowadays like Skype and sending pictures, has made the distance between them smaller. Constant communication is key for their family.
“The main purpose of the video talks is that we don’t want my son to forget my voice and appearance. If there’s any chance to have a video call, we use that time,” he said.
But even with good technology and communication, Aidos has still missed some big moments so far. Tamerlan walked and turned one within the past few months without his father there. Aidos says missing these milestones was one of the reasons making the decision to study at the IEI in America was so difficult.
“It was hard to make the decision, but it’s very important for me because this will be the foundation of my education and future,” Aidos said.
Learning English will help Aidos apply for graduate schools and prepare him for his future career. According to him, the sacrifices will be valuable for Tamerlan in the long run. For Aidos, not only will bettering his career help his family financially, but studying will also give his son a valuable example of constantly learning in any stage of life.
“To leave your family in another part of the world, you have to have good motivation. You have to have a deep understanding of yourself and what you want,” Aidos said. Pursing dreams despite the obstacles of balancing family life whether here or abroad is never easy. But for the students at the IEI, juggling responsibilities is proving to be a rewarding experience nonetheless.
Written by IEI Intern Maria Rubin De Celis