This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Pier Kotro, 17, a junior at Northeast High School, arrived in the U.S. two and a half years ago from Albania with his mother and father. His family wasn’t poor in Albania – they owned a restaurant and fitness center – but economic options are limited, especially for the young. Like so many others, the Kotros came to the U.S. seeking freedom, security, and a better education for their son. “If you get an education in American schools, you can be somebody in life,” Pier said. “In Albania, there are not too many opportunities to get a job even if you finish high school or college.” The country spent 40 years under Communist rule until 1992, but the efforts to build a new capitalistoriented economy disintegrated into chaos five years later. Many families lost all their assets as banks failed and the government fell apart. It is now a parliamentary democracy, but the economy is still shaky. The Kotros migrated to Northeast Philadelphia, which has a large Albanian and Eastern European community. Here, Pier Kotro’s father works in a restaurant and his mother in a clothing factory. He likes Northeast High for its size and bustle, and his favorite class is ESOL, where he is rapidly improving his English. He has friends from all over the world – in a summer school math class, he enjoyed socializing with two boys from Iran and Vietnam, in a class of 15 in which every student was from a different country. He wasn’t surprised or nonplussed by the need to go through metal detectors. “My friends told me,” he explained. In general, he said, “I like the people here, I like the freedom.” He has plans to go to Penn State and be a computer engineer. To make extra money now, he and a friend clean offices after school. He has only one complaint: “Some of the rules here. If you are 18 in Europe, you can drink. For drinking here, you have to be 21.” He chuckles. “I don’t like that.”