A Year in California: Life as a Refugee Teen


My name is Madina Hakimi and I’m 16 years old. I was born in Afghanistan and am now living in the United States of America with my parents and two brothers. After a long trip from Kabul to Dubai and then to Los Angeles, we arrived in San Jose, California in October 2016. We came through the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program. After two weeks living in a motel, we were able to move into our new apartment in Fremont.  


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PRERNA connected with my family soon after we moved in. They helped us with supplies and many services, including giving me a gift card for new clothes at Target. They also provided computer laptops for us so we can all be successful at our new school. My favorite gift from PRERNA is definitely the adoption of my cat named Pesho. Pesho means “cute” in Dari [Persian language]. He sleeps all day and comes to life at night! I also like reading books in my free time and am halfway through “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson. My other favorite hobbies are playing soccer and volleyball.


School is great and I’m hoping to graduate in 2019 and go to college. It wasn’t always easy. Walking onto campus on the first day was very scary! All my classmates asked a million questions about who I was and where I was from, but I couldn’t understand most of what they were asking. Unlike my high school in Afghanistan, my American high school is very diverse and there are many languages spoken at lunch and in the hallways. For the first two weeks, I ate lunch with my brothers until finally I started to make new friends through my classes. Now I’m able to ignore my brothers in the halls!

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My new friends and I speak in English, as it is a second language for all of us and it’s great to practice! Sometimes we go to a playground and sometimes we go to the library. This year, I joined an Indian club, learning more about Indian culture and making new friends. Seeing my friends is the best part of school and that's why I like school so much. Although I was bullied last year, the school took some action on it and gave me support. My teachers have pushed me to work hard. I'm young, but in school they teach us to be very mature.



If there’s one stereotype that is quite true about California, it has to be the weather. It is almost always sunny and beautiful even during the winter. As we watch other states and my home city of Kabul suffer heavy rain or snowstorms in January, many of us are out hitting the beach or hiking the mountains. I’ve already visited two California beaches, and these were my first times seeing the ocean! I love the water, the sand and the sun!

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In October 2017, PRERNA volunteers organized a trip for several refugee families including mine to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. My favorite ride was the famous Giant Dipper. I screamed loudly. (Don’t tell him that I told you, but my dad did too!) In California, there is also great diversity of amazing food. You can get some of the best Thai, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Italian, American and French food here. I cannot think of another place where there’s the same level of deliciousness and diversity in food, definitely not in Afghanistan.


PRERNA has been so supportive in helping me become more confident in the U.S. that I would like to volunteer and become a Refugee Youth Mentor someday. My family is very glad to have PRERNA's support and my dad recently began volunteering for PRERNA since we are a lot more comfortable living here now.

Choosing a job or career will be one of the most important decisions of my life. I want to study Computer Science in college because like it or not you're living in it – this is the Digital Age. Computer programs have all but infiltrated every aspect of our lives. At home, I have been working on my laptop to build a new computer game, working on it whenever I don’t have homework! I haven’t thought of a name for the game, yet, but stay tuned …

(NOTE: The writer’s blog was written with the guidance of Allison Dua, PRERNA’s Education Team Leader. Photo consent was received from the Hakimi family.)