Caribbean in America: How To Ease The Transition to High School for Caribbean Transfer Students

I am excited to share today’s guest blog post from Sidjae Price of Sidjae and I,  know first hand, how disconcerting it can be to adjust to a new environment, culture and school life as a teen, newly arrived in the U.S. Sidjae was kind enough to offer a her insights on how to make the transition easier for international transfer high school students from the Caribbean to the U.S.

It is no secret that many Caribbean students are migrating to the United States with their parents in search of a better life. This idea of a better life is what we commonly know as The American Dream. In an effort to attain their own version of a better life, most families tend to forget about how migration might affect their children and their participation in the education system.

It is debatable, who is responsible for a student’s transition from the Caribbean to the United States. But, as someone who was born in the United States, then moved to Jamaica for six years, then moved back to the United States, I have experienced being a student in both countries. (Yes you read that right!) and I have recognized that there is a need for a structured transitional program to ease the burden of acculturation of Caribbean high school students to the United States.

I can tell you stories of eating lunch alone because I had no friends, getting mocked at school from my peers because of my accent, and even the time when I got placed in the wrong grade, all because the school administrators had no knowledge of the education system in the Caribbean. There is a steady stream of Caribbean students transitioning to U.S. based schools, every year, and there should be a transition plan in place.  Here are 5 ways such a plan could make a transferring from high school in the Caribbean to United States, a smoother process.

Teach School Administrators About International School Systems

School administrators should be taught about international school systems. There should be a tool that is used to understand what grade a child should be placed in when they leave their Caribbean island. This is extremely important because in the Caribbean the school system teaches students more intensely. For example, a child who ranked in the top 10 in grade 7 in Jamaica should definitely not be held back. There has to be a consistent decisions on how schools in the U.S. will manage students that come from international school systems. There have been countless times in which my family and friends have came from the islands and it is always a guessing game with school administrators as to which grade they should be in. This guessing game tends to cause stress on the child and often leave them questioning their intelligence. Teaching school administrators about international schools systems and having game plan for a child’s grade placement, would essentially ease the transition of a Caribbean high school student into the United States.

Friendship Program

When a student starts a new school they most likely have no friends. So having a friendship program will ease the pain of a Caribbean student feeling like a foreigner in the new land, even if they themselves are in fact, U.S. citizens. It is most definitely harder for a Caribbean student to meet friends in their school because of language barriers and also cultural differences. It is even more difficult because the diversity of the cultures and contributions of Caribbean countries is not taught at an early age to most students in U.S. based schools, even though we share the same Hemisphere. A friendship program would provide a host of benefits such as making a Caribbean student feel accepted at their new school, allow for them to focus more on their academic studies and it will foster cross-cultural relationships.

Teach U.S. Students About Diversity, Early

Many students in the US are not familiar with diversity or what it stands for. They are not taught to not mock someone who wears religious clothing to school, not make fun of someone who wants to read the Bible at lunchtime or not to bully someone who speaks with a slightly different accent. There is absolutely no diversity program that is taught to U.S. students in schools and students are not aware of how to accept others that may not be from this country. What happens next is bullying of other kids, which leads to fights in school and some kids may feel the pressure to do things to fit in. Teaching U.S. Students about diversity carries a significant benefits of acceptance of each other in a cross cultural school. This is something parents of Caribbean students can advocate for.

Academic Writing Program

A majority of the Caribbean islands are academically on British English. From my personal experience, it is extremely hard to switch from the British English to American English, and even in my graduate studies that was still a challenge. It takes a while to remember not to use the “u” in the word color or favorite. While I know that many say if you came to this country you should have learned how to write and speak like us; keep in mind that as a youth, a choice was made for you to be brought to this country. Additionally you are asking a child to unlearn the way of writing in which he or she may have learned all throughout grade school. Implementing an academic writing program to ease the transition of the Caribbean high school students into the U.S., stop this problem early by simply teaching students who are in British English how to write on American English. This could really ease the harshness of the transitions process. Until a program like this exists, try to use online resources that help you understand and practive using American English.

Discreetly Break Language Barriers

The transition of Caribbean high school students into the U.S. is going to require a strategic plan if the school system wishes to ease the stress of the students. Having a strategic plan in place will decrease the anxiety students feel after they migrate. A strategic plan will also make it more tolerable for U.S. students to accept their cultural peers. Overall it would making it a better school environment for everyone that builds a cross-cultural environment.

Sidjae Price is the founder of Priceless Planning where she helps modern solopreneurs destroy the overwhelming feeling with strategic business planning, in-house business operations, and business time management. She is also a PhD candidate and enjoys empowering youth through her non-profit Speak Loud, Inc.

Thank you Sidjae for your insight!

Are you a student who transferred from high school in the Caribbean to the U.S.? What was your experience like?

~Melisa Boutin