I migrated from France to the US when I was 15. In the process I traded a village of 2,000 for a high school of 2,000, and green fields for dust and concrete.
It made me uncomfortable being the new kid, attracting attention because I was foreign – and a “desirable foreigner” at that. It took me some time, but eventually I made a choice: to make this place home.
I often joke that making I Learn America was just an excuse to relive the trauma of my high school years!
My film follow five teenagers at the International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to newly arrived immigrants from all over the world. The students struggle to master English, adapt to families they haven’t seen in years, and create a future of their own while coming of age in a new land. Through these five vibrant young people, their stories and struggles, we “learn America.”
For the past year, I’ve been bringing the film to schools and communities around the country. From Chicago to LA by way of Cleveland, Alabama and Maryland, kids connect to Sandra, Brandon, Sing, Jennifer and Itrat (the students in the film). The film has become a platform for immigrant students to voice their own experiences. Last December, the US Department of Education hosted a screening in Washington. Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the film to 500 students and stakeholders in attendance. In his speech, he stated what I’ve been saying all along: “The newcomers are huge assets to all of our children and to all of our schools… What we can learn from them is often greater than anything they might learn from us.”
Learn more about Jean-Michel’s work here.