Homesickness and the Immigrant Child's Experience

During a recent conversation, FYI’s Welcome Program Director Sergio Bautista argued for the importance of social-emotional supports in afterschool. Sergio’s heart brought him to this work. He emigrated as an eleven year old from the Dominican Republic and he sees daily at the Welcome Program the pain, loss, homesickness, and confusion that he experienced as a child. Sergio suggested that not unlike bereavement, the emotions children experience as a result of immigration can interfere with their ability to focus, learn, acquire new skills, behave, and socialize.

Sergio explained that the tug for home can undermine children’s motivation to adapt to their new environment. Some children, he noted, believe that they will be able to return home if they fail school or fail to learn English. 

Sergio further noted that many children lack a vocabulary of emotions, in any language, to grapple with their experience. Lacking the ability to describe or communicate their feelings confounds children’s adjustment at every level. 

Finally, Sergio suggested that when children withdraw because they are self-conscious about their English fluency, it is a reflex that can transform into habit and, later, calcify into their basic character influencing years of under-achievement.

As an ‘out-of-school-time’ program, FYI is uniquely poised to help children manage these difficult life transitions outside of their regular school day. As one response to Sergio’s observations, FYI has placed a social worker at the Welcome Program to establish a personal connection with students, handle crises, and provide one-on-one support.

About the Welcome Program:  FYI’s Welcome Program is located at P.S. 128 in the heart of Washington Heights where almost all of the students are of Dominican or Central American origin and one-third are classified as English language learners (ELLs). Welcome provides 700 hours per child of free afterschool enrichment programs to 120 children in grades K through 5, five days per week, throughout the school year.  The Welcome Program’s summer day camp provides 120 children with seven weeks of free programs from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.  The curriculum is focused on literacy and language-learning with a special emphasis on children’s social-emotional needs.