Running Towards a New Life

By Tiblets Abreha

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

If I knew the journey I would have to take, I never would have left my village in Eritrea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been happier. Being the first person in my family to go to college and run cross country for North Texas, I’m living a life I used to dream about when I was younger.

There was a time not too long ago when I had to walk for over an hour just to find water to drink, and it wasn’t clean water, either.

When I made the decision to leave Eritrea to create a better life for myself, I didn’t think anything would be worse than wondering if I had enough food or water to survive.

But I underestimated how extraordinarily difficult the path to the United States would be.

I was just a little girl when I left Eritrea.

11 years old.

Being so young, I was naive to the hardships that remained ahead of me. I’ve dealt with adversity my entire life, but nothing could have fully prepared me for the mental and physical challenges I would have to overcome in my pursuit of a life beyond my wildest dreams.

No going back

Crossing over to Ethiopia with my siblings was when I fully processed what I was doing. At that point, I realized there was no going back. I could cry and miss my family all I wanted, but it wouldn’t change anything.

Even though I was a little girl, I made the decision to leave and had to survive and live my life without my parents’ guidance and protection.

After walking for days, we finally came face to face with the military. They interrogated us and asked us why we had come and listened to our stories of the hardships we faced in Eritrea.

The worst part was being kept in a makeshift prison for three days, barely providing us with enough food to survive. We were given a small loaf of bread that we were responsible for cutting up to make three meals a day.

I was overjoyed to leave that prison, but what I didn’t know was that my next destination would make me question my decision to ever leave Eritrea.

One step closer

Once I was released from prison, the military sent us to a house to be processed for the next three months. We were trapped there, as we couldn’t leave.

I remember thinking daily how much I wanted to go home and see my parents. No matter how bad the living conditions were, I would’ve given anything to give them a hug and cry in their arms.

They would interrogate and ask us questions every day to ensure we were serious about leaving and that we were leaving for the right reasons.

Like I said, there was no going back to Eritrea, so the best solution was to get through the process and interrogation to get sent to a refugee camp.

It was a relief to finally be released after three painfully long months.

Getting asked the same questions day in and day out was a never-ending cycle that seemed like it’d go on for eternity.

While I was thrilled to be free from the intense interrogation, life in the refugee camp was not much better.

They put us in cramped houses, sharing a space with seven to eight people. Food was scarce, and we survived on one cup of rice or pasta per meal. We had very little clothing and relied on donations sent by organizations from America and Canada.

I missed my home and my family dearly, but I was one step closer to my ultimate goal of a new life.

I’ve never been happier. Being the first person in my family to go to college and run cross country for North Texas, I’m living a life I used to dream about when I was younger. There was a time not too long ago when I had to walk for over an hour just to find water to drink, and it wasn’t clean water, either.

An overwhelming transition

After three difficult years at the refugee camp, I received word that I would be getting transferred to the U.S.

I was so excited because everything that I had survived and endured had paid off, but that excitement quickly changed to overwhelmment.

The language barrier was what I struggled with the most. Conversations were difficult, and even simple tasks like asking for food became a struggle. I had to rely on others to interpret for me until I could grasp the English language.

I didn’t even know how to ask for food.

Worse yet, I couldn’t understand anyone if they offered me food. I had no understanding of the English language.

Living in the U.S. was an intense adjustment and a true test to my strength and perseverance, but it’s gotten easier with each passing year.

As I became more comfortable with the language and moved around to a few different foster homes until I found the one that was right for me, that’s when I began to find my place.

Finding my new home

Unexpectedly, running became my salvation.

My foster parents knew the cross country coach of the high school I went to, so he had me try out for the team.

I started out slow in my junior year, but I had an advantage in that I was a quick learner. By my senior year, I had greatly improved my times. My times improved so much that my coach asked me if I ever considered running in college.

I applied to several different schools, but staying close to my foster parents in Grapevine, Texas was a priority to me. I also didn’t want to go to a school that didn’t have a cross country program, as running became such a passion and escape for me.

UNT checked both of those boxes, but what really separated this school from other universities was the PUSH program. It’s a foster care program that puts an emphasis on helping foster care or homeless students achieve success both in and out of the classroom.

At that point, I knew UNT was where I wanted to go. They understood me and the struggles we face as foster students as we transition to new stages in our lives.

There’s no university I’d rather be at.

Grateful

In my junior year at UNT, despite the hardships I have faced getting to this point, I am filled with endless gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given.

Not only do I love earning an education and running cross country for UNT, but I enjoy being involved and making a difference.

I’m now the vice president of PUSH, and I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to help support foster care students in pursuit of their goals and aspirations.

If my journey to the U.S. has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the small things in life. I have access to air conditioning, light, clean water, and food.

These are basic necessities to most people, but they’re luxuries I only dreamed about when I was in Eritrea.

While I miss my family dearly, I know they’re proud of me and everything I’ve had to overcome and endure in creating a better life for myself in my new home.