A journey through immigration


Megan Ralfe

Megan Ralfe, Staff Writer

I still remember the irritation flaming through my body after I waited in the inevitably long line at the Mount Pleasant DMV, only for the man behind the counter to tell me, “Oh, you’re a resident alien, you have to go to Leeds Avenue.”

I’m a resident alien.

I moved to America from South Africa with my mom and older brother in 2011. We arrived in Florida in June at the beginning of what felt like the longest school vacation in history to a non-American who was used to year-round school. I even — as a confused 11 year old — began to think Americans did not attend school.

The thick, humid air slapped my face every time I walked out the door. The Florida heat was hardest to get over.
Other than the fact not a soul could understand our stone-thick South African accents.

We came to America for better opportunities and to get away from a worsening lifestyle in South Africa. We want to be American citizens. But there have been obstacles along the way.

The first was my birth certificate.

Up until about three years ago, South African birth certificates did not state the name of the child’s parents. Going through the initial process of obtaining our green cards, my family and I had to make frequent court appearances as a standard procedure. You can imagine the horror on our immigration attorney’s face when he saw the parentless certificate. We soon found ourselves sitting in the waiting room of a 24-hour clinic, waiting for the DNA results to
prove that my brother and I were my mother’s children.

Another $1,000 down the drain.

$1,000 seemed like a small dent compared to the $55,000 in attorney and application fees my mom had already paid. To my mom, that $55,000 was the price tag on getting out of a rapidly deteriorating South Africa.

It was worth every penny.

It took five years for my mom, brother and me to obtain our greencards. The long process would have been less mind-numbing if the first attorney didn’t botch the initial paperwork.

We had to submit it all again.

Once we arrived here, the culture shock set in. South Africa has 11 official languages. My first language is English. I attended an English primary school and speak English with my family. You can imagine my 10-year-old self in a whirlwind of offense and confusion when my fifth grade teacher in Florida introduced herself in condescendingly slow, broken English.

Her face went as red as a cherry when I responded perfectly in English. My cute prim and proper South African accent only added to her humiliation.

But don’t worry, that’s not even the best one in my list of cultural surprises.

A few honorable mentions include the following:

“Why are you white?”

“Did you live in a hut?”

“Well in America, we do things this way.”

“Were you surrounded by animals? Like tigers?”

Yes, because tigers roam freely across the continent of Africa — just like they do at Clemson University.

Please don’t misinterpret my culture shock as an ungrateful rant about my newly adopted country. The United States has offered me ample opportunity for just about anything.

But my all time favorite remark someone made when learning I was from South Africa is “Wow, you’re just like Cady from Mean Girls!”

Yes. Thank you for comparing my life to a rom com featuring, wait for it, Lindsay Lohan.

How fetch.

Even though I’m grouped into the immigrant category, being a non-Hispanic immigrant has proved to be eye opening. While we’re all the same, we’re still treated differently.

I’ve come to learn that because I’m white, my immigration experience has been entirely different than others.
I’ve had people complain about immigration in this country and how it needs to be “fixed.” Then they’ve turned to me and said, “Oh but I don’t mean you, Megan. You’re different.”


Because I’m white and originate from a country where English is a primary language, that makes it okay to deem another person leaving their home for the same reason I have a “nuisance?”

We all deserve a chance.

We all deserve a life.