Many mothers would identify with Korka Diatta’s life in Indianapolis: she wakes up, gets her kids off to school, goes to work, and takes her kids to extracurricular activities, all while managing her household. It’s much the same as her life in her home country of Senegal, but with a few distinct differences.
Korka was born in a village called Joa in western Senegal, but she grew up in the small, densely populated coastal city of Dakar.
“[I remember] running with my friends at the beach, staying all day swimming, coming back home and getting grounded,” she recalled, laughing. “That’s one thing I really miss.”
Korka also misses the communal aspects of her adult life there.
“If you are a Senegalese woman and you go to work, you don’t have to worry about housekeeping at all. We live in a community. If you go to work, everyone else takes care of the house,” said Korka.
After graduating from college, Korka wanted to be an engineer, but her mother encouraged her to be a teacher. Engineering school would take five years, whereas teaching school would take four and with a virtual job guarantee. She became a math and science teacher at a junior high school, where she met her husband, an English teacher. They married in 1996.
Leaving Senegal wasn’t something that had really crossed her mind.
“To be honest, I didn’t have intention to go for immigration at all,” said Korka. “It wasn’t really something we were looking to do. My dream was to be able to travel around the world, and...that’s what brought me here the first time.”
In 2001, Korka and her family took a vacation to visit a friend living in Indianapolis. While in Indianapolis, they found out about a job opening for a French teaching position at a local school. Korka’s husband applied for the job, and by the time they got back to Senegal, he’d received an offer.
The following year, they relocated to Indianapolis. Korka was 32 at the time, with two children, a four-year-old and a five-month-old. Her third child would later be born in the United States. Korka’s husband’s degree in English made his transition to life in the United States a little easier than her own.
“It’s always a big adjustment if you don’t speak the language,” Korka said. “My husband, when we came here he didn’t have any language barrier because he was an English major. But [for] me, it was different. I had to adjust and go back to school and take some ESL classes.”
After a year, Korka also started teaching, but found the environment too different for her liking.
“In our country, if you’re a teacher, you’re almost honored. Kids would listen to you, respect you. But here,” she said, “it was opposite.”
She decided to apply her skills elsewhere and started her own business: a hair salon. After five years, Korka started going to school for accounting at IUPUI’s Kelley School of Business, from which she graduated in 2016. Since then, she’s worked as an accountant and financial analyst.
Korka enjoys her life in Indianapolis and spends most Saturdays with a group of Senegalese families having tea or to share meals. However, she admitted that building a life in Indianapolis hasn’t been easy.
“Many jobs you apply, with your accent they think that you are not qualified, and then it’s not an easy thing,” said Korka. “Especially if you had a good job and you left the job, and you struggle to find a good job here. And that’s the case for many immigrants. Some of them, they have their Ph.D., their master’s degree, then they come here and they struggle and have to take low-paying jobs.”
Even during difficult times, Korka’s children keep her motivated. Since they have grown up as Americans, she believes her children will want to stay and create a life in the United States. As for herself, after her youngest graduates from college, Korka hopes to split her time between the United States and Senegal so she can see her family – and her home – more often.
“It’s not an easy life. But still, it’s good,” said Korka. “Most of us, the opportunity that our kids have is the one that really keeps us going. They can go to school and have a good education and probably one day have a good life.”