From Germany to California: Henry Nadeali Jelokhani’s Journey in Education and Life

The senior at Mission Viejo High immigrated to America at age 12, and overcame a myriad of challenges in his time acclimating.

      “We got it!” Moloud Nadeali Jelokhani exclaimed to her 12 year old son, Henry Nadeali Jelokhani, from across the house after opening up the mail. After several years the Nadeali Jelokhanis, citizens of Frankfurt, Germany, finally won the US ‘Green Card’ lottery; they could finally move to the States, where Moloud’s brother-in-law had raved about the success and stories he found in California for years. So, six short months later, Moloud, Jafar, and Henry found themselves in a new house, Henry’s uncle’s house, with a new world in front of them.

      Henry was put into a 6th grade class a couple weeks into second semester. Although (naturally) slightly nervous entering a new school, Nadeali expressed that the teacher and all the students made him feel extremely welcomed. 

     Nadeali stated that his 6th grade teacher, Mr. Higgins, like many of his future American teachers, went “above and beyond” in making him feel comfortable. And this experience with Mr. Higgins (allowing him to use google translate, helping him individually with assignments, always trying to include him in the class, etc.) really expresses the difference Nadeali felt between the culture in Germany and America. Nadeali states, “I feel like the biggest difference between America and Germany is the vibe you get in the education system. Although it is a lower level there’s this sense of having fun and growing as a person rather than academics and only academics…the culture supports the growth of character.”

     The differences in the culture of education in the two countries is most aptly represented by the 6th grade promotion. In America schools usually hold a ceremony for 6th graders to celebrate them completing elementary school. In Germany when students complete their equivalent of elementary school they just go onto the higher level, which holds our equivalent of fifth graders to college freshman. Still in the academic only mentality of Germany, Nadeali’s thoughts were that “it was just mind boggling to me why this would be a celebration. In Germany after fourth grade you just go to fifth grade.”

     Nadeali compares this promotion to participation trophies, something never evident in Germany. This matches up with the hyper competitive culture in Germany where “there’s a pie and you want to get as big of a slice as you can,” whereas in America “it’s a buffet, everyone can win.”  And Nadeali believes that being a member of this American mindset is what helped him reach later academic success that would not have been possible with the negative, competitive mindset of Germany.

      Entering 7th grade Nadeali was put into the English Learners’ program where he got to meet other recently immigrated students, but a couple weeks into the school year he was transferred into regular English classes. Leaving it was bittersweet for him, it was sad for him to leave his Persian friends he had met (although born in Germany both his parents were Persian and spoke Farsi at home) but he was glad to be improving. 

      During this time, due to the fact that he had already learned many of the topics when he lived in Germany in tandem with the fact that he was put into non honors classes, many students placed a label of ‘the smart guy’ on Nadeali.

      This idea of wanting to become the smart guy was also reinforced by the new role model in his life, his uncle. Nadeali saw how respected his uncle was as a doctor and how grateful the patients were of him, bringing home dozens of cards and gifts thanking him for his work, and, from seeing this, Nadeali developed a dream for him of being a doctor.

      In the past Nadeali did not really have a reason for wanting to succeed but this label gave him purpose, to continue being the smart guy and trying to work as hard as he could. Whenever possible Nadeali would read, spending his snacks and lunches in La Paz Intermediate’s library. Naturally Nadeali’s vocabulary and understanding of English improved, accelerated by the large amount of reading he had done.

      At the point of middle school graduation his confusion of celebration for elementary or middle school graduation had faded and at this point he now felt acclimated to the culture of the American education system.

      However, going into high school, now being enrolled into all honors and AP, was a complete shock for him. Since Nadeali had already learnt much of the prior content in American schools already in Germany due to Europe’s more accelerated curriculum he did not have to study middle school but going into ninth grade a lot of these topics were brand new and this was the first time where he felt the need to study in America and, due to now being in honors classes, the label of ‘the smart guy’ had virtually dissolved.

      Nadeali had to learn basically every component of how to write an essay due to being in college prep classes during middle school but eventually developed an understanding for all of his classes, English especially, throughout the school year. 

      Tenth grade, his and the rest of the current seniors’ year of Covid, was a blessing and a curse for Nadeali education-wise. He had done it completely online and, because of this, was able to enroll in ten classes, three at Saddleback Community College and seven at Mission. “That was just brutal, I was not ready for that workload…in hindsight I regret nothing because it taught me a lot about studying and workload management, but I paid for it with my grades.” Nadeali now completely understood all of his classes, but the unreasonable workload of ten classes made him suffer academically.

      His eleventh grade he originally enrolled in seven classes but ended up dropping his Calculus AB class and a Chemistry course at Saddleback due to scheduling issues, which left him with five classes; a relatively easy year for him but the small amount of classes during his junior year had a chance of hurting him during admissions season the following year.

      Twelfth grade Nadeali felt confident entering the admissions season knowing the hard work he had done to go from a completely non honors student to an all honors student trying to learn as much as possible, but looking back Nadeali now thinks that he didn’t express the challenges he faced well enough and was very “impersonal”, and this was a contributing factor in his rejection/waitlist from every single school he applied to.

      This had been a major discouragement for Nadeali in many ways, like a lot of seniors he had this preconceived notion that colleges are a direct representation of your hard work in school (something that he later realized was not true and is overall a toxic mindset to have). But Nadeali wasn’t complacent with rejection; he felt he didn’t represent himself fully in his applications. 

      A couple days after his rejection, in a last ditch effort, he began writing an appeal to UCI, a school with a roughly 4% acceptance rate of applicants who appealed their rejection. In it he laid out all the challenges he had dealt with throughout the years; after countless revisions the appeal came in at 2000 words. He sent it and hoped for the best.

      On the sixth of May Henry Nadeali was informed that he was admitted into UCI. His advice for underclassmen (and advice for life in general) is, “you only really lose when you stop trying.”


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Judd Karn
Judd Karn
Judd Karn is the Editor-in-Chief for the Diablo Dispatch. He enjoys anything computers, graphic designing, and is an avid Entertainment writer.

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