Abdi in class

His first word in English was "soccer." Abdi Mohamoud, 15, In a special class for non-English speaking students at San Diego's Crawford High School. 


Matthew Bowler/KPBS

In one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods, a teenage boy started school for the first time in his life. For 15-year-old Abdi Mohamoud, everything at Crawford High School is new, from the teacher to the language.

Abdi has been in the United States for about six months. His family fled Somalia for an Ethiopian refugee camp just after his birth. They spent years there, and none of the Mohamoud children went to school in that time. Abdi’s family taught him basic math and how to read Somali at home. But the structure of a class, learning with other children, is a new experience.

Crawford High has special classes to help kids like Abdi, through its New Arrival Center. All the students are new to English and often new to school as well.

The New Arrival Center’s goal is to have students learn enough English to be able to succeed in regular high school, with English language support, within a year.

Abdi’s first spoken word in English: “Soccer.”

His favorite team is from the English Football Premier League — Chelsea, he says, because "they always win.” (Well, until this year.)

The United Nations says nearly 1 million Somali refugees are living in camps across the horn of Africa, with a quarter of a million in Ethiopia. During this fiscal year 1,600 refugees were resettled in San Diego.

Adbi and father

15-year-old Abdi Mohamoud and his father, Aden, sit in their San Diego apartment.


Matthew Bowler/KPBS

Abdi’s father, Aden Mohamoud, said after six months San Diego is beginning to feel like home. He also remembers being a child and dreaming of going to college.

“I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but my father didn’t have an education so I didn’t get an education,” Mohamoud says.

He doesn’t take education for granted.

“I want my son to be educated and become whatever he wants to be in the world,” he says. “I don’t want to be like my father.”

Abdi wants to be a doctor or nurse. On this day, however, it's a struggle for Abdi even to write numbers.

More: Immigrant student life in the US

As for friends, the youngster spends time with other Somali teens, exclusively.

“It is really hard for me to make friends who aren’t Somali, because of the language,” Abdi says through an interpreter.

Abdi wanted to try out for soccer but was afraid his struggles with English would get in the way. He wasn’t sure how his coach would guide him and how would his teammates communicate with him.

Looking forward to the coming year, his father sees a bright future.

“I’m excited that Abdi can get educated and do whatever he wants,” he says. “I am going to work hard to help my children get educated for whatever they want to do.”

Sitting in class, confused about everything, Abdi picks up an English-Somali dictionary and works at figuring it all out. Humor has become the way he works through his challenges.

“Laughing is good. It really helps me,” he says.

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