Name: Joe Phillips
Birth Country: Wales
Age when you moved: 11
Q: What brought you to the USA/UConn?
JP: My dad received a promotion and we decided as a family to move. Before moving, we flew to the United States and took a look at a bunch of homes. Our parents saw it as very important that we each had a chance to give our input, and really made us feel like our voices wouldn’t be ignored and that it wasn’t solely their decision. We chose a house and flew over, however, we shipped our furniture which didn’t arrive for a few weeks, so we would sit on the floor and eat dinner/ watch TV, then sleep on mattresses which were just on the floor. Meeting people was pretty easy seeing as I had a thick British accent that Americans love, however, I had to choose my words carefully so as not to say the wrong thing. For example, in Britain we call erasers ‘rubbers’, and when I asked a school teacher for a rubber I received a very confusing scolding. The actual process for becoming a legal immigrant wasn’t too complex or difficult, however, it was made clear to us that without my father’s job intervening, certain processes that took us a month can take other families years to get done. We received our permanent resident cards (green cards) after a month of providing thumbprints, pictures, and answers to a variety of questions. I remember at this time my parents told me about a coworker of my Dad’s who had had to wait a year to get this same card, and had been on a work visa for that whole year.
Q: What has been your favorite/the most exciting part of living in this country?
JP: Considering Wales has little to no snow every year, learning to snowboard has been probably the most exciting part of being in America. Also being able to visit states like Hawaii, Vermont, Colorado, and Texas have been really cool experiences.
Q: What has been the hardest or most discouraging part about living in this country?
JP: The hardest part of moving was saying goodbye to friends and family. It didn’t really hit me until some point on the day of our flight. All of a sudden a wave of emotion came over me. I felt really sad realizing that my relationships with friends and family would be completely different moving forward, but hopeful at the same time, and excited about what this change would bring.
Q: When you imagined the United States as a kid, what did you imagine? How did these expectations/ideas hold up when you got here and how have they held up over time?
JP: Much of what myself and my siblings knew about the United States came from American movies and TV shows. At the time, shows like Drake and Josh, Ned’s Declassified, and the movie High School Musical were all hugely popular in Wales, and although we were not expecting students to be singing and dancing in the hallways, our expectations were largely influenced by Hollywood. When I first told my friends that I was moving, their expectations were very similar. They would ask me if I was going to play ‘American Football’, start snowboarding/ surfing, and if I would develop that classic American accent we had all seen in the movies.
Almost immediately, my expectations were replaced with the reality of living in Connecticut, which was by no means a bad reality, but was very different from the Pacific Coast Academy I had seen on Zoey 101. There was only one recess period in elementary school and zero in high school (we enjoyed 4 a day in Wales!), classes weren’t overly exciting, and I had no crazy woodshop teacher who’d delight in telling us all horror stories. When I think back, however, I did not have any real expectations of the United States, but instead kept an open mind and accepted that change was coming that I needed to be ready for and willing to adapt to.
Q: What are some of the positive aspects of the culture of your birth country- be they political, religious, or otherwise- that have helped make you who you are?
JP: Although it may not seem significant from an outsider’s perspective, the sport of rugby is very ingrained in the country of Wales, in a similar way that football or baseball is here. I have been playing rugby since I was very little, and have continued playing through middle school, high school, and now college. To some extent, I have devoted the largest chunk of my free time to rugby through the years and I’m definitely now seeing the hard work pay off, having recently been named Captain of the UConn Team.
Q: How do you contribute to the community at UConn/in the United States?
JP: As I previously mentioned, my role on the UConn rugby team keeps me very busy, and I really relish every opportunity to wear a jersey that says, “UCONN” across my chest. In general, I try to be a vocal in the classroom and a leader in group settings, and I have been involved in several charities through the years. My most favorite memory was participating in Unified Sports in high school, which enabled me to spend quality time with some really outstanding people.
Q As a white immigrant, you have an interesting perspective in the sense that you are an immigrant, but you also probably escape a lot of intolerance from people who are anti-immigration. How does American nationalism and the recent conversations about immigrants look from your perspective?
JP: If I were to meet an American today, they would never assume I had previously lived 11 years in a foreign country. It is only until I tell them, or they detect the slight bit of Britain that still remains in my voice, that they come to find out I am a Welsh-American. Based on my looks, very few assumptions are made of me. However, if I had immigrated from another country, where for example I may have been practicing a religion that requires me to wear headwear, my everyday reality would be drastically different. As you mentioned, being a Caucasian male shields me from a lot of the unfair injustices that many of my peers have to bear on a daily basis, injustices that members of our government would rather ignore than address directly.
Q: What are your goals for the future and how have those goals been shaped by your experience at UConn and in the USA?
JP: My goals for the future are to continue to grow as an individual, to graduate from UConn with a degree and a good GPA, and to find a good job that I enjoy. UConn has taught me that all things are attainable, provided you put in the work and that you can shape your future by putting effort towards the things you enjoy doing.
Q: Do you hope to continue living in this country after college? Why or why not?
JP: I’m definitely looking to continue living in the U.S. after graduating. This country is so vast and presents so many opportunities that other countries do not have, it would be silly not to want to stay and explore every corner. This is the same answer I likely would have given if I had been asked at age 11, 12, 13 and so on.
All photos courtesy of Joe Phillips.