Sara Ling is from Burma. When she was a child, her father disappeared. That's why her family left their country.
"Everything about my country is damaged," Ling said. "No hope besides to escape our country to make a new life."
Burmese immigrants, like Ling's family, were the largest refugee group to settle in the United States from 2000 to 2012.
In 2001, Ling's mother fled Burma with her four children. They ended up in a refugee camp in India. In the camp they had to work to buy clothing and food. It was harder for women without husbands, like Ling's mom.
"We were poor," Ling said. Before, her father provided for the family. Now, they "were like orphans."
"It was like he's dead," she added, "He's not in the world anymore for us."
After seven years in India, Ling's family was admitted to the U.S. She was surprised when she arrived at Sea-Tac Airport by the "white people, English and fresh air."
She has faced many difficulties since she has been here. She couldn't speak English when she arrived and hadn't learned to read while living in the refugee camp. She enrolled in Foster High School in Tukwila, Wash., and joined a language learner’s class to help acclimate to her new home.
But the hardest thing is not having a father. Ling said she thinks about her dad every single day. Her heart is burning, broken and hurt. "I feel bad because people celebrate their fathers and I don't have a father to celebrate," she said.
When she's sad, Ling looks up pictures of her father or listens to a song that reminds her of him.
She still hopes her father might be alive, even though everyone else in her family believes that he is dead. She wants to find out for herself.
"First I'm going to finish my college and get a good career," she said of her plans. "Then with my money, I can save and I can go back to Burma." She wants to look for her father.
If it's true that her father has died, Ling said she would be disappointed. "But I would always look up his words he used to tell me, and keep up my future with his words."
Even though she was young, Ling remembers those words: "Never regret the choices you make in life. Never be sorry for what you did yesterday. It was what you wanted, what you chose.”
Even if she doesn't find her father, she has his words, and that makes her someone who has a father.
“He is my hero and he is my role model," Ling said of her father. "He taught me to be a good person and a successful person. This is the reason why [I am] who I am today."
RadioActive is KUOW's program for high school students. This story was produced in RadioActive’s Fall Workshop in partnership with the Tukwila Community Center. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.