Immigrant Story: Junior Kalkedan Malefia

Vivian Phan, Staff Writer

Junior Kalkedan Malefia came to the United States when she was only 8 years old. Coming from Ethiopia, a drastically different nation from the United States, Malefia had some trouble getting accustomed to this change. 

Malefia was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was not until she was 8 years old that Malefia and her mother decided to make a monumental change and move to America. Malefia recalls her mom initially applying for a visa without expecting to actually get it. “My mom only signed it as a joke but it actually ended up working out,” Malefia said.  

Malefia recalls the night before she and her mom departed. “I remember my whole family gathering at my house to say goodbye and to pray we get there safely,” Malefia said. She recalls the mixture of emotions she felt that night, excited on the one hand to start a new beginning in America while on the other hand she felt extremely sad to say farewell to her friends and her family. 

The following day, Malefia and her mother made their way to the airport and boarded a flight to come to the U.S. Malefia recalls being nervous while on the plane. “In the plane I got the middle seat and I sat in between my mom and this kind old lady. Throughout the flight, I kept needing to go to the bathroom because I was so nervous which made me feel really sorry for the lady,” Malefia said. 

After a long flight that took approximately 12 hours, Malefia finally arrived to the United States. 

Upon arriving, Malefia noticed the various differences that can be seen between Ethiopia and America. She remembers the small differences the most, like the air for instance. Ethiopia’s weather is often times colder and even when it gets warmer, there is not much humidity. This was not the case when Malefia came to the U.S., where it was hot and humid.

A bigger difference Malefia noticed was the schools. In Ethiopia, Malefia attended Nativity Girl School, a private school that had students from elementary to high school. Comparing her old school with schools in America, she says there is so much that is different. One difference was that in Nativity Girl School, students are supposed to dress in uniforms, unlike here where students have the freedom to choose their clothing. Another difference was how long lunch breaks were.  “I remember having one hour lunches, unlike in America, where you only get 30 minutes,” Malefia said. 

Another difference she noticed was the rotation of classes. Unlike in America, where students move from class to class to go meet with their teachers, in Ethiopia it is reversed. “In Ethiopia, you would be assigned a classroom and the teachers would have to move around to teach,” Malefia says. The way of representing grades was also different. Instead of using letters from A to F to show a student’s work in class, they used numbers in her previous school. “The lower the number, the better your grade,” Malefia said. 

Despite the many differences Malefia had to get accustomed to, she now enjoys her life in America. Malefia adds that adapting to these changes was not all that difficult because of her family and having the ability to interact with many Ethiopians who reside in this area. “For me, adjusting to the lifestyle wasn’t hard because I was speaking Amharic with my family and eating the same foods,” Malefia said.  “So, in a way, I felt at home even though I wasn’t home.”