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From Refugee to Opportunity

Barun Tamang ‘21 has lunch with friends in Cheatham Dining Hall

Barun Tamang ‘21 has lunch with friends in Cheatham Dining Hall

After a childhood in a Bhutanese refugee camp, college is a dream come true for Barun Tamang ’21

As a child growing up in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal, Barun Tamang ’21 and his siblings made do with very little. It was there that he learned to play soccer on a dirt field littered with sharp rocks. He didn’t even have shoes or a real ball.

It’s a far cry from his life today. “It was hard growing up there,” said Tamang, who is a member of Randolph’s men’s soccer team. “You don’t really have any opportunities, and it’s like you’re stuck in a hole. You try to get out, but it’s really hard and you need help to do it.”

It wasn’t until 2010, when Tamang, his parents, and three siblings were able to leave the camp and immigrate to the United States. His parents found work in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Everything was a surprise to me: the buildings, the roads—I didn’t think life could be like this when I was in the refugee camp,” he recalled. “For the first few months we lived here, my family just stayed in the house. And I only knew how to say my name, my age, and where I was from. That was it. So I couldn’t really communicate with people like I can now.”

Over time, Tamang and his family adjusted to life in a new country. He remembers the kindness of neighbors and even some strangers who gave his family rides around town. At school, his English improved dramatically with the help of ESL courses, where he also made friends with other international students. He made even more connections when he joined the Soccer Organization Charlottesville Area (SOCA) club, and even met two teammates who were former refugees in Kenya.

Barun Tamang '22 on the soccer field at Randolph

Barun Tamang ’22 on the soccer field at Randolph

Tamang and his friends were determined to attend college. So their coaches rallied to support them and raised money for a special scholarship fund. Martin Braun, a SOCA league coach and member of the Aromas Café FC amateur soccer club and community outreach organization, organized the effort.

“We were very excited to hear Barun had been accepted to Randolph,” Braun said.

“He’s a great player and great kid who worked hard to play college soccer. We didn’t raise as much as we wanted, but were able to provide some funds to all three players for their first year at school.

“We are happy to see the success they had on the field and in the classroom so far during their freshman year,” he added. Tamang is studying business at Randolph and believes he has found his niche.

“I’m constantly thinking about where I come from to motivate myself,” he said. “When I was at the camp in Nepal, I had the mentality that I would be at that place forever and that would be my life. But everything changed dramatically, and I’m here now.”

Though his life is vastly different, Tamang will never forget his roots—or the sacrifices his parents made to give him a better future.

“For me to go to college is a big deal because my parents never thought they would end up here or that one of their children would be going to college,” he said. “It’s a dream that’s coming true for them and for me. I want to educate myself so that I can go farther in life and make them proud. That’s my goal, ultimately.”

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