New England Public Radio and Amherst College’s Copeland Colloquium have collected the personal stories of nearly 30 people from around the world who have made their new home in western New England. Traversing continents and cultures, the project illuminates the many pathways leading to our small corner of the globe, and explores the shared experience among those seeking a new life in a foreign land.

Angelica Merino Monge - EL SALVADOR

Angelica Merino Monge was ten years old when she, her mother and her older brother fled El Salvador. She lived here illegally until recently, when the DACA Act (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was passed, enabling her to become authorized to work and receive deferred action status. Putting herself through college after her mother moved to Maryland for financial reasons, Angelica is committed to encouraging fellow DREAMers to be open about their situations; she is one of the organizers of the Out of the Shadows March and president of the Latino International Students Association at Holyoke Community College.

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Georges Annan Kingsley - Cotes D’Ivoire

Georges Annan-Kingsley was a successful artist and university-level art teacher in Cote d'Ivoire, when he was forced to flee to Ghana during political unrest there. For two years, the Ghanaian government sheltered him, but when funds for dialysis ran out, the Ghanaian Catholic clergy helped Georges, his wife and son come to the United States on a medical visa. In Hartford, as he hopes and waits for a kidney transplant, Georges continues to paint and teach. View examples of Georges' work in this video.

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Hind Mari - Palestine

Hind Mari came from Palestine to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on a Fulbright scholarship in 1986, expecting to return after completing her master's and doctorate programs. After a tumultuous first visit back to the West Bank, she and her husband, who by then had one child, reluctantly concluded they could not raise a family in their beloved native country. Mari directs the UMass-Amherst’s Women of Color Leadership Network at the Center for Women and Community.

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Heather Neal - Ireland

A licensed massage therapist in Greenfield, Massachusetts, Heather Neal was born and raised in Ireland to British parents. She spent her adolescence in Spanish Harlem, where she found fitting in a challenge.  Decades later, she still misses Ireland while also having a sense of belonging in America.

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Mariana Mercedes Cruz Gonzalez - Puerto Rico

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Woodlyn Joachim - Haiti

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Sovann-Malis Loeung - Cambodia

An adminstrative assistant in the Education Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Sovann-Malis Loeung was two or three years old – she will never know which – when she escaped Cambodia with her mother. Over the years, her mother resisted giving her and her siblings detailed information about the episode, which remains foggy. Loeung does know her father died as they were leaving, but isn’t sure how.

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Saul Grullon - Dominican Republic

A native of Santiago, Dominican Republic, Saul Grullon and his family arrived in New Jersey when he was two. It was only as a middle school student that he accidentally discovered his family is undocumented. Help from a devoted high school guidance counselor motivated Saul to apply for a temporary visa through the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA), a U.S. statute. Saul is a graduate of Amherst College, which featured him in this article.

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Ching Ching Cernada - Taiwan

Ching Ching Cernada is a retired health educator raised in Taipei, Taiwan. After a year of graduate work in the United States, she married an American and returned with him to her native country. Ten years later, she and her family decided they preferred life in America, settling eventually in the Amherst area.

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Bhuwan Gautam - Bhutan

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Rogelio Minana - Spain

Former Mt. Holyoke professor and chair of the Spanish Department Rogelio Minana hails from Valencia, Spain. Coming to the U.S. in his twenties for graduate study in Spanish, he fully intended to return to his native country. But as professional opportunities began opening up for him here, Minana decided to make the U.S. his permanent home. Having lived in a number of U.S. cities and traveled a good deal for his work, he regards himself to be a global citizen whose life is decidedly richer for having called so many places home. But the real sign to him of his acceptance as an American in the eyes of his peers was when he was offered the position of chair of Mount Holyoke’s Spanish Department.

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Vira Douangmany Cage - Laos

Amherst resident Vira Douangmany Cage was four the night her mother told her to be silent lest they be shot crossing the Mekong River from Laos to Thailand. After years of living in squalid conditions as refugees, she and her family obtained visas and landed in Dorchester, Massachusetts,where she experienced repeated episodes of discrimination in elementary school. Vivid memories of both that prejudice and the hardships her family endured as they tried to adapt to American culture inform her present-day advocacy work as an organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and as a representative on the Amherst School Committee.

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Kamika Bennett - Jamaica

Kamika Bennett had not seen her mother since she was two when, at the age of ten, she traveled to the United States to reunite with her. Bennet came from a small town in Jamaica, where her family had been since the ago of slavery. Her mother left her two young children in the care of their grandmother in order to provide her extended family with better financial support from the United States. Bennet is a student in immigration studies at Hampshire College.

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Bryan Torres - El Salvador

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Magda Ahmed - Sudan

Magda Ahmed was born, raised, and educated in Sudan. Blacklisted in 1989 shortly after the coup d’etat organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, she fled to Yemen with her two young daughters. Her husband, a political prisoner at the time, managed to follow two years later. When civil war broke out in Yemen, the family came to the United States on student visas. Eventually they sought and were granted political asylum. She lives in Amherst and works for the United States Agency for International Development.

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Heap Sin - Cambodia

As an adolescent, Heap Sin and his family escaped Cambodian communist forces on foot. After ten years in a  squalid Thai refugee camp, the family obtained visas to come to Massachusetts. Knowing little English when he arrived in his early twenties, Sin attended public high school in Amherst, Massachusetts, graduating—he likes to say he’s the school’s oldest graduate ever— at the age of twenty-four. A couple of degrees later, Sin now works as a human resource information specialist at Amherst College.

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Veronica Vaida - Romania

Veronica Vaida first dreamed of escaping Communist-ruled Romania as a child. As a young adult with a degree in teaching, she experienced anti-Semitism firsthand. She immediately announced to her husband and two daughters it was time to leave. Through a series of coincidences, she managed to obtain visas for the family relatively quickly. Vaida eventually settled in West Hartford, where she teaches yoga at the Jewish Community Center.

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Roger Kasbo - SYRIA

Horse jumping champion, Roger Kasbo, came to the United States for the first time in 1990. Unable to stay, he returned home to Syria, where he met his wife and fathered two daughters.  After a decade of waiting to return to the United States, he got his lucky chance in 2012, just as war was beginning to devastate his beloved city, Aleppo. He lives and works in Shelburne Falls.

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Jozefina Lantz - Slovenia

Jozefina Lantz loves to travel and met her husband while visiting the United States. But she was determined not to become an immigrant, so she and her husband returned to her native Yugoslavia, now known as Slovenia. They were forced to leave, however, when  employment for foreigners became scarce as the turmoil there mounted. She works at Ascentria Care Alliance as Director of Services for New Americans' Services, a job she has realized in retrospect interests her because her father was a political prisoner in Montenegro.

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Manju Sharma - INDIA

Manju Sharma was happily living in the state of Himemachalpradesh in northern India in 1987 when her husband was accepted to do postdoctoral research here. She left India on what she believed would be a half-year of travel, and looked forward to returning to her job teaching chemistry at a local college. But her husband found work in the United States once his studies had ended. Staying busy by helping others was what saw her through the first years here, which were lonely for her at times. Now, nearly thirty years later, in addition to working as a chemistry technician at UMass Amherst, Sharma now serves on the Board of Directors at the Survival Center in Amherst and as the Hindu advisor to students at both Mt. Holyoke College and Amherst College.

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Pranaya Bhatterai - Nepal

University of Connecticut student, Pranaya Bhattarai was born and raised on the verdant plains in the southern part of Nepal. His parents, who preceded him here, were among the first Nepalis to come to central Connecticut, settling in West Hartford. Years later, as a teenager, he followed.

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Nayomi Dissanayake - Sri Lanka

Nayomi Disanayake and her husband wanted to improve their circumstances, so were planning to  leave Sri Lanka  to live in Italy. But before that plan materialized, she won the Green Card lottery, and the couple emigrated to New England instead. Dissanayake feels her new life in America really began the moment she began talking English classes.

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Alberto “Tito” Gambarini  - Argentina

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alberto “Tito” Gambarini graduated from medical school there and trained as a surgeon. He arrived in the United States in 1958 for what was originally intended to be a short visit to study cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. As fate would have it, he met his future wife on an emergency room call and canceled his plans to study medicine in France. For thirty years, he practiced medicine in Hartford, Connecticut. Seeing the toll that medical practice took on his colleagues, Tito retired as a physician in his midsixties to study art at the Rhode Island School of Design. He has taught painting and art history, and frequently presents and lectures on the films of Charlie Chaplin.

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Fouad Abbood - Iraq

Fouad Abbood left Iraq in November, 2014.  He taught English in high schools in Iraq and served as an interpreter with a security firm, making him a target for ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). As ISIS’s hold on Iraqi territories continued to expand and come closer and closer to the town where his family still lives, Abboud’s life became increasingly endangered. The United States granted him a visa, and Catholic Charities provided support for him to come to Hartford, where he is taking steps to obtain the credentials he needs to be certified in Connecticut as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher.

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Pascal Akimana - Burundi

Pascal Akimana fled Burundi at the age of eleven as his village was being attacked by rebels. He became separated from his parents at the Congolese border and took on the care of his three younger sisters. Narrowly escaping brutality and death time and time again in the ensuing years, Akimana finally found safety in South Africa, where he began his work as a humanitarian. Now living in Holyoke,Massachusetts, he recently earned his masters' degree in peace building and conflict transformation. He is the president of the Massachusetts-based diaspora organization Engaging for Action in Burundi. He is also executive director of the nonprofit Umoja Now, which is committed to engaging Burundi men and boys to promote gender equality and decrease violence against women and girls.

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Immaculee DuSabe
& Christophe Niyibizi - Congo

Life was good for farmer Christophe Niyibizi before tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi became deadly in their country, the Republic of Congo. After their farm was burned down, the family—Christophe’s wife, his daughter Immaculee, and her five siblings—fled to safety. Landing eventually in a Rwandan refugee camp, the family of eight endured squalid conditions for eighteen years, before getting the opportunity to come to Springfield in 2012. Although they were completely unprepared for the bitterly cold New England winters, they still feel their cup is overflowing.

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Josephine - Ghana

After years of being separated from her parents—both teachers who came to America in search of a better life, Josephine, who wants to be identified only by her first name, finally made it the United States herself. As luck would have it, a month later, her parents returned to Ghana. Josephine was left to fend for herself in a new land. Through hard work, she earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and now has a family. In many ways she has prospered in this country, but there are certain aspects of American culture she’d rather her children not adopt as their own.

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Samer Khaleel - Iraq

Samer Khaleel fled from Iraq to Syria in 2007 and immediately applied to come to the United States. Living in Syria when war broke out, he reluctantly returned to Iraq, feeling he'd rather die in his homeland than in Syria. He was finally granted permission to come to the United States in the fall of 2014. Living in Springfield, Khaleel is looking forward to applying for U.S. citizenship.

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Jose Palacio - Colombia

As a young adult with a wife and two daughters, Jose Palacio worked at his father’s ministore in Colombia. But when his father decided to sell the business, Jose’s employment opportunities dwindled to nothing. He borrowed $5,000 to make his way to the United States, where he hoped to improve his circumstances for his family, which he had left behind.  Settling in the Hartford area, Jose lived in fear of deportation until his employer assisted him in obtaining legal permanent residence. Until quite recently, Jose worked sixteen hour days to make ends meet; recently able to cut back to just one full-time job, he finally has the time and resources to study English and enjoy some moments of leisure riding his bicycle.

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Lyudmilla Shumska - Ukraine (and Latvia)

Lyudmilla Shumska was born and raised in Ukraine. Eager for adventure, she moved to Latvia with a group of girl friends in her twenties. She married there, returned to Ukraine after a while, but ended up in US because she was eager for a new adventure. She'd dreamt of opening a coffee shop and recently did so in downtown Chicopee, where she also lives. No Photo available.

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Project Credits




Cathleen O’Keefe

Tema Silk

John Voci



Beth Reynolds : All photos except denoted below

Joyce Skowyra:

photos of Pascal Akimana, Immaculee DuSabe & Christophe Niyibizi, Jose Palacio and Josephine.

Angelica Merino Monge – El Salvador

Bryan Torres – El Salvador

Bhuwan Gautam – Bhutan

Ching Ching Cernada – Taiwan

Fouad Abbood – Iraq

Georges Annan Kingsley – Cotes D’Ivoire

Heap Sin – Cambodia

Heather Neal – Ireland

Hind Mari – Palestine

Immaculee Dusabe & Christophe Niyibizi – Congo

Kamika Bennett – Jamaica

Jozefina Lantz – Slovenia

Lyudmilla Shumska – Ukraine (and Latvia)

Magda Ahmed – Sudan

Manju Sharma – India



Mariana Cruz – Puerto Rico

Nayomi Dissanayake – Sri Lanka

Pranaya Bhatterai – Nepal

Rogelio Minana – Spain

Roger Kasbo – Syria

Samer Khaleel – Iraq

Saul Grullon – Dominican Republic

Sovann-Malis Loeung – Cambodia

Tito Gambarini – Argentina

Veronica Vaida – Romania

Vira Douangmany-Cage – Lao

Woodlyn Joachim  – Haiti

Jose Palacio – Colombia

Josephine – Ghana

Pascal Akimana – Burundi

Catherine Choi - Amherst College

Alexis Teyie - Amherst College

Caitlin Vanderberg - Amherst College

Jessica Ramirez - Mt Holyoke College

Hannah Thornton - Mt Holyoke College

Richard Park - Amherst College

Siyu Feng - Amherst College

Qi Xie - Amherst College

Rama Hagos - Amherst College

Leslie Coronel - Amherst College


Special recognition to volunteer

Emily Savin

Amherst College

Ilan Stavans

Ryan Mihaly

Copeland Colloquium


Aliza Ansell, Holyoke Community College Center for New Americans

Ted Barbour, Prosperity Candle, Easthampton

Alden Bourne

Nancy Caddigan, Intercultural Liaison, Hartford Public Library

Michael Carolan, Clark University

Robert Chipkin

Susannah Crolius, Western Massachusetts Refugee and Immigrant Consortium

Taneisha Duggan, HartBeat Ensemble

Joanne Gold, Ludlow Adult Learning Center

Magdalena Gómez, Teatro V!da

Gerry Harvey, Round the World Women

Robert Marmor, Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts

Ann Maggs and Victoria Maillo, Amherst College

Mohammed Najeeb, Services for New Americans Ascentria Care Alliance

Steve Raider-Ginsberg

HartBeat Theater Ensemble

Lynne Weintraub, Jones Library

Judy Wyman Kelly, West Hartford Human Rights Commission


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