Neelam Yadav recalls experience moving to U.S.


Kat Martin, Assistant News Editor

Imagine moving to a foreign country where you don’t know the culture, language or anyone there. For some, like biology teacher Neelam Yadav, this is not an imagination, but a memory.

It is said that America is a nation of immigrants, but it can be difficult for some people to imagine what it is like to start over in a foreign country.

In current day, the internet can make it easier for people to learn about other countries. But Yadav was only in tenth grade when she came to the United States and had little say in starting a new life abroad. Her home country of India was still proud of its independence, and promoted Hindi over English. While she had studied English for a few years at her school in New Dehli, by the time she moved, she was only able to speak it as well as a preschooler.

While the aspect of moving to a country with a different language is daunting, the shock of foreign habits and manners is equally intimidating. Yadav had never left India before and she took to the new culture with difficulty. She recalls being embarrassed to wear pants as opposed to traditional Indian clothing, and being surprised at going to a coed school.

Yadav remembers the biggest culture shock she went through quite clearly. In the United States, students switch classrooms, not the teachers, but the opposite is true in India.

“During my first week [of school], I would stay in my homeroom class. All of my other teachers were marking me absent,” Yadav said. “I’m sure the teacher tried to tell me [that I was supposed to switch classrooms], but I couldn’t understand what she said.”

In addition to the sheer struggle of having to assimilate, some students only made it worse for her.

“I would ask [other students from India] questions and they would give me the wrong answers,” Yadav said. “I would answer [incorrectly] and people would laugh at me. I had no clue what was wrong.”

The eldest of four siblings, Yadav was already a teenager when she arrived, so it caused much frustration when it was harder for her to learn English than her siblings. As scary as assimilating into the new country was, once she got used to it, it would only get easier. Learning the culture proved to be very difficult, but she was able to pick up English quickly.

Yadav was able to get a handle of the English language by writing down everything she saw on the board and going to the school’s library during lunch, reading anything and everything she could get her hands on, regardless of whether or not she could comprehend it.

In fact, Yadav’s understanding of English advanced so much that she won an essay contest after six months of living in the United States. Interestingly, those grading who her work had no idea she had only just begun learning English. The Washington Post interviewed Yadav for this feat, as well as for her personal experience of learning English in such a short amount of time.

“I think my experience has helped me become a better teacher because I can pick up on when students are struggling with the language,” Yadav said. “It takes me back to where I was and allows me to help them better.”

Teaching was not Yadav’s first career, as she initially went to school to become a pharmacist. However, she wanted to do something that allowed her to be around her kids more so she turned to teaching. Thankfully, Yadav’s choice turned out for the best; she is a well liked teacher and is able to teach at the same school that her daughter attends.

“Mrs. Yadav’s a really good teacher,” freshman Dana Ablimit said. “She’s really nice and she’s funny too. I connect with her a lot.”

When Yadav first moved to the United States, she begged her parents to send her back. She believed that she would never learn English. But her view changed drastically, and now she is glad that her parents made her stay.

Moving to a completely alien country sounds like a nightmare to many, but Yadav is an example of being able to succeed after such a drastic change.

“She’s very courageous, she’s brave and she’s strong,” sophomore Priti Yadav, Yadav’s daughter, said. “I admire that a lot about her.”