'Gateway to American Dream' gives students insight to achieve their goals

Jacob Byrne feels a deeper connection to his family after finding the names of his great-grandparents in an immigration book on New York's Ellis Island.

The History student is visiting America along with more than 40 of his peers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) as part of the Freedom to Achieve project.

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Jacob Byrne at the Ellis Island museum

The students are exploring the identity and success of black and minority ethnic communities in the Big Apple, with day one focused on the former immigration inspection station which is now a museum honouring the USA's immigrant heritage.

Jacob said: "My great-grandparents emigrated here after the Irish potato famine, so their names are in the immigration book.

"Seeing their names is surreal. I didn't expect to feel anything but I feel connected to them."

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Visiting what was the gateway for more than 12 million immigrants to the USA between 1892 and 1954 has also had a positive effect on his studies.

"It has opened my eyes to how they would have been treated when they originally came over. The Irish went to Hell's Kitchen (an area of New York where the first Irish immigrants found work) and there are all the different neighbourhoods in the US compared to Liverpool, where I'm from.

"I will take back more extensive knowledge for my course - it has been eye-opening."

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Ellis Island and its neighbour in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, were chosen as the first official stops on the trip - offered through DMU's international experience programme #DMUglobal - to celebrate the people who came to the US to make it such a diverse society.

Annette Akinola, who studies Law, Human Rights and Social Justice, felt the visit had 'extra significance' because of her heritage.

"My parents came from Nigeria to England to search for a different lifestyle," she said. "I think it's symbolic because it shows what people had to do to get a better life."

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Annette Akinola and Abigail Holmes inside the museum

Law student Abigail Holmes has benefited personally and academically.

"What intrigued me is the policies here and immigration requirements that citizens had to follow in order to live a good life," she said. "It makes me realise how privileged I am that I'm not living a life with restrictions and strict rules."

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Himanshu Garg, centre, has learnt how different cultures have impacted NYC

Discovering more about the 'gateway to the American Dream' may even help Business Entrepreneurship and Innovation student Himanshu Garg, from India, achieve his ambition.

"As an entrepreneur, my goal is to start an international brand and in just one day in New York I have seen how different cultures from around the world have made this city a huge financial hub for business," he said. "Now I will use this understanding to create my own brand."

The group from all four faculties will continue explore how identity, belonging and community are critical aspects to student success over the next three days. They will bring back their learnings to inform DMU's Freedom to Achieve project, whose mission is to ensure every student can achieve their potential.

Posted on Tuesday 4th June 2019

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