Concord High seniors prep to college after immigrating to the U.S.

  • FROM LEFT: Concord High School seniors Lidia Yen, Moses Seba, Manju Gurung, Esther Elonga, Raj Bhandari and Claudine Umurutasate are all heading to colleges across New England this fall. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • €˜Be the Change Club€™ students that are heading to college stand on the steps of Concord High School last week and will all graduate this Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/12/2017 11:54:08 PM

Anna-Marie DePasquale frantically searched for a song to play so members of Concord High School’s Be the Change Club could dance.

The club, run by DePasquale, a school social worker, promotes inclusion through weekly lunches on cultural communication, panel discussions with new American students and an international night.

But it’s more than just a club, members said. It’s a lifeline for students who have come from other parts of the world – many trying to learn English – and attempting to get a foothold in their new school.

“Honestly, if Be the Change Club didn’t exist, I would have either graduated early as a junior or dropped out,” said Lidia Yen, a native of South Sudan.

The physical area where the students meet serves as a safe place where they can talk, bond and feel at home. On a blackboard in the room hangs a map of the world with pushpins from each student’s home country, each connected by a string to a pushpin in Concord.

Several of the students will graduate June 17 alongside their classmates and attend college after graduation.

Moses Seba, originally from Zambia, will head to Keene State College this fall to study biotechnology and chemical engineering.

“I wanted to help out people with certain genetic disabilities such as our former principal Mr. Connolly, who suffered from ALS,” he said. “As a result, that kind of inspired me and made me geared towards that branch of science.”

Seba said the club was crucial in his adjustment to Concord High School.

“It made me get by anxiety because I knew I wasn’t alone in this issue,” he said. “I met with other people who were in the same boat as me, and it gave me confidence that whatever future awaits, I can face it with my friends.”

Alongside Seba was Manju Gurung, who emigrated from Nepal.

For Gurung, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with a new system of schooling.

“The grading systems here in America – and in my country in Nepal – it was kind of different, we kind of had a system that the British people had,” she said.

Gurung said her adjustment, which included her application and acceptance to Plymouth State University, was helped by DePasquale.

“If it weren’t for Ms. D, I wouldn’t be going to college,” Gurung said.

Claudine Umurutasate, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, came to the United States by way of Rwanda. Next year, she plans to study nursing at Keene State, in part because of her experience in refugee camps in Rwanda.

“I want to be a nurse so I can be a person that can provide health for them,” she said. “I think when I become a nurse, eventually a registered nurse, I could go back there and build a hospital there so I could provide help to those who are suffering there.”

For Umurutasate, like many of these students, one of the biggest challenges she faced coming to the United States was learning a new language and being unable to communicate with other students.

“At first, when I came here, this school seemed so big to me,” Umurutasate said. “When I came here I spoke zero English. ... It was kind of scary to go where they speak a different language than yours.”


DePasquale’s search for a dance song ended when she settled on Pharrell Williams’s 2013 hit, “Happy.” Yen, Seba, Umurutasate and Gurung began to dance accompanied by classmate Esther Elonga, also from the Congo, who recently earned a full ride at Harvard University.

While the music blared in the background, the dancing members of the group tried to pull in fellow club member Raj Bhandari.

There are two favors Bhandari does with relative frequency for his friends – cut their hair and fix their iPhones.

Bhandari, a native of Nepal who spent time in refugee camps before coming to the United States in 2011, will be using his technological skill when he goes to Plymouth State University next year to study computer science.

“Whenever something happens with the TV or the computer, I try to fix it. ... I think it’s one of those things that pulls me towards computer science,” he said

After much pleading, Umurutasate and other classmates convinced Bhandari to join in with the rest of the group and dance along.

“The great thing about all these students is they took advantage of every opportunity presented to them,” DePasquale said.

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