- Posted January 29, 2013 by
Team iReport featured this story
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Naturalized citizens: Your thoughts on immigration reform
My Journey to America
'Granting automatic US citizenship is not fair to the thousands of legal immigrants who have had to wait for years to attain their US Citizenship. Citizenship has its privileges,' he writes. 'We need to find a reasonable strategy to ensure that undocumented immigrants can be made LEGAL in the country. However, this process should not be at the expense of the thousands of LEGAL immigrants who have been patiently waiting for their turn to become US citizens.'
- dsashin, CNN iReport producer
My "Journey to America" is an interesting one that spans three continents--Asia, Africa and North America. I came to the United States as a foreign student in 1978 when I was 17 years old and knew only one couple in the US, became a legal Permanent Resident and am now proud to be a US Citizen. I have made Pennsylvania my home.
When I came to the United States, I would not have imagined that one day, I would have the privilege of meeting two US Presidents, President Jimmy Carter and President George W. Bush, or try running for office but I did! I am very proud to be an American citizen. I know firsthand that it is not easy to make it in America but I also know that as long as I work hard and earn my keep, America is a land of opportunity.
Today, I serve as Director of International Student Services and Program Manager for India, China, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Africa and the Middle East for BCA Study Abroad, Inc., an international exchange program based in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
I support legal immigration. I speak from my personal journey to attaining my US citizenship. Granting automatic US citizenship is not fair to the thousands of legal immigrants who have had to wait for years to attain their US Citizenship. Citizenship has its privileges. I am happy to share my story with you. I hope it will serve as an encouragment to others.
It was while I was in Livingstone, Zambia, Southern Africa, that my family became good friends with an American missionary couple, Mark and Darlene Keller, who were working with Mennonite Central Committee and were teaching with my parents. Darlene is from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and Mark is from Des Moines, Iowa. They were both graduates of Messiah College, Grantham, located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This friendship dramatically changed the course of my life.
My family could not afford to send me to the US for my higher education. Exemplifying the best in American spirit, Mark and Darlene reached out to my family and took an interest in me when his father expressed a desire to send me to the United States for my higher education. Driven by their love and friendship for my family, Mark and Darlene Keller contacted several of their personal friends from America as well as four colleagues from Canada, Germany, Scotland, and England, who made financial commitments to enable me to begin my undergraduate education at Messiah College in Central Pennsylvania in September 1978. I was also awarded an International Students Scholarship from Messiah College for which I will always be grateful. I also worked hard on campus and helped to pay my way through college. Darlene’s parents, Wilbur and Lois Hess from Mount Joy, served as my American host family during my time at Messiah College. I received my Bachelors degree in Business Administration in 1982. I decided to pursue graduate studied and in 1984, received my Masters in Public Administration from Shippensburg University, a leading university in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. I supported myself while in graduate school, lived in a room above a bar to keep my rent low and survived with bare essentials.
I was born on April 30, 1961 in Madras (now Chennai), South India to Paul and Jessie William both of whom were high school teachers in Madras. Paul was also the headmaster of St. Thomas Mount High School located in St. Thomas Mount, South India. Both my parents did not make much in terms of salary. In September 1961, when I was only four months old, myparents were appointed to teaching positions in Ethiopia, East Africa, and made the decision to move the family to Africa. This decision began the long and interesting journey to the fulfillment in 1978 of my childhood dream of coming to the United States of America.
From 1961 to 1969, I received my elementary education in Ethiopia. As teachers, my parents did not make much money but they worked extra hours tutoring students and teaching at night school in order to provide me, my four sisters and a brother, the best possible education they could afford. Because they valued education and believed firmly that education would provide the best opportunity for their children in the future, I was sent to an international school in Addis Ababa called The English School. My classmates were from all over the world: Egypt, Sweden, Kenya, India, England, USA and other nations, many of whom were children of diplomats. I knew my parents sacrificed a lot to send me to this school.
In 1970, another teaching offer for my parents took me to Bo, Sierra Leone in West Africa. While my parents taught at Bo Teacher Training College, I finished elementary school and started my first year in high school at Christ the King College.
In 1973, my parents made yet another move across the African continent to Livingstone, Zambia, Central Africa, where they had accepted a teaching offer from David Livingstone Teachers Training College. In Livingstone, I attended one of Zambia’s leading high schools, Hillcrest Technical Secondary School, where I learned to work with my hands in woodwork and metalwork along with my other subjects.
The international dimension to my life continued to expand when I arrived in the United States in August 1978 for my undergraduate studies. I was elected President of the International Students Organization at Messiah College where I took an active interest in the lives of international students from Ethiopia, Zambia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Vietnam, Honduras, and Canada. I organized educational and sightseeing trips for the international students to the nation's capitol, Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, and New York.
After receiving my Master of Science in Public Administration in 1984 from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, I was thrilled to be appointed as an intern with the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee in Harrisburg. I met my wife while working in Harrisburg and was married in 1985.
In March 1998, after a short stint in the private sector, I rejoined the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. On hearing about my upbringing in Africa over 17 years, Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry, Honorable Johnny Butler, asked me to serve as his liaison in planning Pennsylvania’s first Cabinet-led Trade Mission to the Republic of South Africa. The highly successful trade mission was held in September 1998. Following the trade mission, the Secretary directed me to create and launch the Department’s first Center for International Relations to help coordinate the Department’s participation in the international initiatives of state government under Governor Tom Ridge. As Director for the Center for International Relations, I launched the Department’s International Forum on Workforce Development series and hosted over 20 delegations from several nations including India, South Africa, Jamaica, Poland, Russia, and South Korea who were interested in learning about Pennsylvania's higher education programs, economic, community and workforce development initiatives and cultural programs. My new role opened new opportunities for me to further strengthen my international credentials. I was honored to participate in Pennsylvania’s first trade mission to India led by Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker (then Lieutenant Governor) in March 2000. In September 2000, I was invited by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs to participate in a fact-finding mission to India. This mission was a result of bi-lateral agreements following the visit of President Clinton to India in March 2000 and the visit of Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee to the US. In 2003, I was invited to attend an International Investors Conference sponsored by Trade and Investment Limpopo, South Africa and also addressed International Education Advisors from over 30 African nations at a US State Department Conference where I spoke on the topic, “Marketing US Higher Education.”
A proud moment for me came in 1995 when I was selected from among the national network of State Occupational Information Coordinating Committee staff in the US to receive the National Outstanding Staff Member Award.
I am married and my wife and four children reside in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. My wife, who is also originally from India, and an immigrant herself, is Chief Medical Officer at Hamilton Health Center, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We have four children - Prasana, Prema, Preeta, and Priya. We have a dog named Elvis.