Friday, June 18, 2021

Some Thoughts on Support (Upon Graduating from University), By Aineias Engstrom

 


    I’m not usually one to boast about my accomplishments, but I’m confident enough to say that I succeeded at Portland State. Not only did I meet many wonderful people who have had a meaningful impact on my life, but I also graduated summa cum laude and gained important professional experience by completing three internships in Portland. These achievements put me in a position to now move on to graduate school in Switzerland.

    I don’t mean to toot my own horn by calling my time as an undergraduate a success. I mean to set the scene to discuss an important realization I’m taking away from my three-and-a-half years at PSU. Namely, why I was able to succeed.

    I was able to succeed because I had a tremendously strong and dedicated support structure that helped me with every step along the way. My aunt, uncle, and grandparents here in Oregon; my parents from abroad; advisers, classmates, and professors in school itself. I felt supported by more people than I could have imagined during my time in Portland.

    Yes, I worked hard, I looked for internships, I was bright-eyed and eager to build relationships. I understood how to put the puzzle pieces together to succeed. But only because I was given the time and space to figure it out. I produced good work because I felt like people had my back and wanted me to succeed. I got internships because my family supported me financially, so I could work twenty hours a week without pay. And I became eager to build relationships because people’s kindness allowed me to overcome my social anxiety, at least on most days.

    Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I realized more and more the privilege of having such an extensive and committed support structure. I benefited tremendously from it, both materially (having my basic needs met) and emotionally (receiving affirmation for my hard work). But it also became clear to me that having such a support structure is not necessarily normal at PSU. Two of the smartest and most kind-hearted classmates I met as an undergraduate were forced to quit school because they could no longer pay tuition costs. Both of them also had troubled relationships with their families and couldn’t count on them for much support. And I encountered many more people who didn’t have the support structure they needed to overcome problems ranging from trauma and loneliness to food insecurity and houselessness.

     As somebody who was empowered by a strong support structure, my main message to readers is that we need to provide whatever support we can to each other, especially if we ourselves enjoy the privilege of support. There are many different means of support and each of us has something to contribute to somebody else’s well-being. I’ll be the first to say that I need to do more, but I’ve also come to realize that it isn’t a competition. Providing support starts with simple gestures like complimenting someone for a job well done or listening to them when they want to share something about their lives.

    While there are types of support that nobody should have to ask for (such as food or housing), it can also be important to overcome hesitation about asking for help when we need it. It can feel intimidating or even disempowering to ask for support. But oftentimes, people are willing to support us, they just don’t know exactly how – so we have to let them know. It’s true that I come from a privileged position in society that makes it relatively easy for me to overcome this hesitation. But I want to encourage everyone with access to a support structure to use it, to push past the hesitation. Because having a support structure can be so crucial for our success and our emotional and physical well-being. I believe we all need help and most of us also want to help others.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

AVID High School Graduation Speech from PSU DACA Student


    
Two years ago, I was in the same shoes as all of you–days before officially graduating and celebrating this remarkable achievement with my AVID family. AVID and those in it, Mr. Smith, and my classmates encouraged me to pursue my goals despite the challenges. AVID represents an exceptional part of my high school experience because it was a place where I felt welcome and encouraged. The idea of being in college as a first-generation and minority student often feels impossible, not only to us as students but also to our parents. When I told my parents the cost of a public university, they immediately told me, "So, you're not going?" To give you a perspective of their thinking, which I completely understood, the cost of a public university is more than my mother makes in a single year. The process of going to college continues to be a learning path for me and my parents. It did not help that I did not qualify for federal aid and other scholarships as a DACA recipient. However, during my senior year in AVID, we all helped each other by sharing scholarships we found; Mr. Smith gave us so many resources, and I was able to apply for local scholarships. 
    Para ustedes como padres, esta celebración refleja el trabajo duro que sus hijos e hijas han hecho para llegar a este punto, y hay que reconocerlo porque es muy difícil no solo por el trabajo que hicieron sino emocionalmente también. En la comunidad hispana, pocas veces se habla de lo emocional pero es una parte importante de los logros. La graduación de la preparatoria es solo el comienzo y sus estudiantes se enfrentarán con más retos en el futuro. A veces es difícil entender estos obstáculos y el trabajo de nosotros los estudiantes porque muchas veces somos los primeros en nuestras familias en continuar nuestra educación. Hablo por experiencia porque mis padres no entienden lo que hago la mayoría del tiempo. Algo que no puedo enfatizar suficiente es que, este es el camino de sus hijos. No decidan lo que creen que sea mejor para ellos; dejen que ellos descubran lo que les gusta, incluyendo su carrera. Como padres, siempre estarán allí para apoyar a sus hijos, pero estos próximos años son para que ellos exploren y aprendan. Para que cometan errores y aprendan de ellos. No es algo fácil y la presión no ayuda. Se que parecen muchas cosas y tal vez parezcan regaños pero como dice mi papá, “No son regaños, son consejos.” Apoyen mucho a sus estudiantes, especialmente en sus reconocibles logros.   
    Pursuing post-secondary education is financially challenging, emotionally draining, and overall a difficult path. This is especially true during senior year when receiving good and bad news about schools and scholarships and face other factors like leaving your family behind. In Hispanic & immigrant families, this is especially relevant because we carry a lot of pressure. Many of us often serve essential roles in our families, so it’s challenging for them to see us go, and we often feel guilty for leaving. 
    Getting into college is already a significant accomplishment because we are often the first ones in our family to follow this journey; however, it will also come with many challenges. Something that stuck with me from my senior year was that post-secondary spaces were not built for us. To this day, colleges often do not represent the diversity of our communities, which can lead to minority students not feeling a part of the school. In my first year, I struggled with feeling a sense of belonging in my science and math courses –courses where the demographic was lacking in diverse ethnicities and gender. The students around me were confident and always asked questions, whereas I felt small and dumb. Because of this, I began struggling with imposter syndrome –a feeling that made me doubt my ability, and I questioned whether I deserved my accomplishments –or if they had only been because of luck. 
    To reduce these struggles, I relied on the professors who showed they cared about me being there and made it feel like a learning space, not a competition. I sought out clubs & organizations that interested me to feel a part of the campus and the Portland community. In Portland, I volunteered at a preschool reading program, helped senior AVID students with their college essays, and wrote an encouraging letter to a high school student unsure of pursuing college because of the financial aspect. These experiences reminded me of how far I'd come since high school, which helped me remember that I had earned my place at PSU. 
    There will be many times when you'll be facing very similar challenges, so it will be necessary to surround yourself with people who respect you and your goals. It will also go by quickly, so enjoy it while you can and try new things –join clubs, organizations, travel abroad, and maybe even become a mentor to the younger students. Discover yourself in college and find what you are genuinely passionate about –not the path that others think is best for you. I struggled with this my first year but am now discovering a career that interests me. And, of course, take care of your mental health. Recognize when you need a break; don't push it off as laziness because small breaks can keep you from burning out too soon and losing your motivation. Following this, college is a learning space, so don’t bring yourself down for a failed test or assignment. Straight A’s and good grades in high school do not reflect your grades in college. Getting C’s and failing tests my first year was challenging because I doubted my ability or if my demanding major was the right choice. It’s critical to think of setbacks as learning experiences and analyzing what you can do to improve. 
    Finally, and without a doubt, you have all worked hard to deserve this unique, individual celebration. Graduating from high school is the beginning of your journey, and continuing to college is your next step. You have all incorporated yourselves in places you deserve to be in as part of the AVID class by being in advanced, AP, and dual-credit classes throughout high school, which often lack diversity. Like your AP and advanced courses, you deserve to be in countless other spaces. All of you deserve to be in a college classroom. You deserve to hold a leadership position and share your perspectives. You deserve to have a role in the career you are passionate about, whether a teacher, psychologist, architect, or engineer. You deserve to go beyond an undergraduate education and pursue a master’s or Ph.D. education. These spaces weren’t meant for us from the start. But you can all make it a space for you because you deserve to be there and anywhere else. 
    Today, I only see the tip of the iceberg on the journey that led you all here, but I know that beneath that, you have all worked hard and sacrificed things to get to this moment. Every single one of you has demonstrated the individual determination you carry, and I have no doubt you’ll use it wisely, so I’d like to wish you luck wherever you are heading.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Michael Winchester, Jr. on Service, Loss, and Vulnerability


Throughout the last three to four years of my life, I have experienced a variety of profound transformations. Some that were voluntary, some that were almost completely out of my hands, and some that were situated somewhere in between the two. After all, being a college student trying to traverse the perilous ordeal of choosing a career path, and actually sticking with it, has been something that has plagued me since the beginning. I always have had a general idea of where my skill sets lay, but I was not always confident where they were best applied. I decided to become a psychology major, as I knew working individually with people was something that spoke deeply to me. I am not the most extroverted person, but forming genuine relationships has always proven to be a fantastic motivator for myself. With that said, I had never been quite sure what specific area of psychology I would engage in and pursue. Luckily, that all really began to change for me through service work in David’s freshman year “Immigration, Migration, and Belonging” course.
I enrolled in the course without much knowledge of what it would look like and because I was not sure what else to take at the time. Of course, I am so happy I did now, but I might not have had the same excitement for what was to come upon registering. This was especially the case when the initial idea of volunteering outside of the classroom was brought to my attention. I had never really done much service work in my life, so there is no other way around it but to say that I was somewhat nervous for what was to come. Would I be effective in helping others, at this point in my life? Would people be receptive to me? These were all doubts that began to emerge and cloud my expectations.
At the start of Winter term of that year, I began volunteering out at Earl Boyles Primary School out in the David Douglas School District. Of all the presented options of places to volunteer at, I figured that younger kids would be easier to work with. Nonetheless, I hopped on the bus behind my freshman year dormitory and embarked on the 30-minute bus ride to Earl Boyles with no idea of what I was getting myself into.
As soon as I entered the building, I immediately began to feel a bit more at ease. Shortly after arriving, I was assigned to work in a classroom of 5th graders. I was placed in a particular classroom with another volunteer to focus on helping two students that had struggled academically and socially throughout the year. Now, this was something that was still quite outside of my comfort zone. I had never been in a position where impressionable kids were looking up to me for advice or to answer one of their many questions. More doubts slowly followed. Although this time, the idea began to present itself in a much more positive light. The hardest part - actually stepping foot on the bus, into the school, and meeting with the staff - was completed, and I became much more optimistic about the experience. I suppose that feeling is quite relevant to most new opportunities in life. Once we begin to place ourselves in a state of relative discomfort, we position ourselves in a way that enables growth in some form or another. Without taking a gamble, we risk stagnating where we are. I know this has been true for myself in the past, as I have not always pushed myself as hard to leave my comfort zone. The push from David’s course was exactly what I needed at that period of my life.
With my outlook improving, finally getting to enter the classroom and introduce myself to the students instantaneously overrode the initial anxieties that had built up. These were doubts and anxieties that existed only in my head and were quickly dispelled by the beaming smiles and elation of the students towards me. Any doubt over whether or not I was qualified to help the students became irrelevant, as the kids certainly treated me as if I was fit for the job. It became clear to me that this was something that gave me a great sense of fulfillment and purpose. Furthermore, it made me realize the importance of supporting young people and encouraging them to be their best selves. I think this is a principle that has gotten lost along the way in our accolade-based education system.
As time passed, I began to form greater connections with the students I had been working with independently. The eventual trust that developed really helped me settle in and improve my overall service work. More importantly, it helped me help them, and the benefits of this were largely noticeable. One of the two was someone that struggled to make friends and fit in with their peers. It was not a long time before he was chatty and playing basketball with all the other students at recess. This was someone who I could not previously get a word out of. The other student struggled academically throughout his time at the school, but saw the overall largest grade improvement of any student in the 5th grade at the end of the year. It finally clicked for me. My experience at Earl Boyles was entirely transformative, as it helped guide me down the path of identifying a particular career in psychology. I had seen that I was truly capable of working with kids, but without being pushed to do so might not have fully realized this passion.
In fact, the following year led me to begin working at the Boys and Girls Club of Portland, in a very similar environment with other elementary school kids. The job has allowed me to further minimize doubts in my life, find purpose, and improve my abilities of working with kids. My recent experiences with the Boys and Girls Club has shown me how kids are the individuals who need additional support the most. Lots of the kids I work with have difficult home lives, trauma, or other issues that are not always visible or able to be addressed by a teacher in a normal 30-student classroom. So, it has become my mission to do my part in assisting students who find themselves in these situations and work as some sort of child therapist or counselor. I’m still figuring it out.
On top of my career, it has also helped transform me into a better person. It has taught me the importance of giving back to the community and those who need it most. There are so many different kinds of people struggling with different types of issues, that I have definitely begun to transition my life into a more caring and conscious one. I view all people’s issues as valid and worth finding solutions for. If a person is voicing concerns about an issue, there is most likely truth to be found within those concerns, whether we are currently aware of it or not.
These values of having a conscious awareness and caring for those around us are ones that are not new to me, but certainly new in their application to my current life. The first person who truly demonstrated these values to me was my mother. She was a school teacher before I was born and lived her life with an unmatched gratitude and thoughtfulness towards those around her. Unfortunately, she passed away a little over a year ago while battling a second round of aggressive colorectal cancer. She was originally diagnosed with stage 4 cancer when I was only in 5th grade, so her battle with cancer and the fight for her life was something that always played a role in my development. One of the major things I took away from the many years when she struggled through chemotherapy, radiation, and being bed-ridden was how her spirit and optimism continued to prevail. In the face of death, she remained focused on checking in with others, giving to others when she could, and living a lifestyle that encouraged peace and happiness for all of those around her. Having a first-hand view of this battle really transformed the way I looked at life. It provided me with a whole new perspective. How could somebody, whose chances of surviving seemed so bleak, remain so positive and filled with gratitude? Moreover, it helped me understand that if she, in her health, could remain living with such compassion for the world then it was totally possible for me to do the same.
As a result, it also helped me get in touch with my vulnerabilities and appreciate the unseen vulnerabilities of those around me. Growing up, my peers at school did not know what I was going through at home. That undoubtedly made things much tougher, as I felt like it was a secret burden to my life. Now that I’m a little older and able to do service work, I definitely carry that knowledge into each day. We never know someone’s whole story just from an initial glance or what we assume to be true for someone else. We are all unique individuals with our own exceptional stories. That’s how we must treat all of those around us.
Thank you, David for giving me a platform to tell my experiences and for those of you who have read this piece. If there are any primary takeaways from this, I would say to constantly try to find ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone, give back to those around us in the best way possible, and live with a conscious awareness of the fact that we do not know everything about everything that meets the eye. I still have a lot to learn and figure out, but I’m optimistic for the future, as the principles act as a light to illuminate the path ahead of me.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Destined To Be Great," by Theresa Walelu

Even before I was born, my life was full of hardship. My father passed away when my mother was pregnant with me. Two months after my mother gave birth to me, she also passed away. Luckily, after my mother passed away, my aunt stepped up and took me in. She raised me as one of her own children. We lived in poverty: our house was made of grass and rain always entered. If it was raining at night, the house would be full of water. We had to stay up all night without sleeping. I remember going to bed hungry.  We first lived in Angola, the country I was born in, until war broke out. We moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo when I was four years old. My aunt and I barely escaped.

Changing residence because of war and poverty became a repeated occurence in my life. We lived in Congo for six years, and survived with the little we had until another war broke out causing us to relocate again. This time we moved to Zambia. Even though there was no war in Zambia, my family and I were still very traumatized from witnessing all the wars in Angola and Congo. We were traumatized to the point where we had no hope until we received the best news in 2016: we were coming to the United States of America!

Fast Forward to now: I’m a senior in high school, and my goal more than anything is to get a higher education and become a Physician Assistant (PA). My aunt had a habit of telling me about my parents, especially my dad. One thing I’ve kept dear to my heart is how my dad had always wanted to become a PA, but had to sacrifice that dream in order to provide a better life for his family. My aunt who parented me, an orphan, always believed in me and spoke positive words to me. She often told me “You look just like your parents, and you’re destined to be great.” My aunt believing in me helps me know that I can achieve goals, and become whoever I want to become. I believe I can become great by pursuing my dream of a PA. 

My past hardships and experience I have taught me to be resilient and have molded me and gave me a strong mindset. I have learned resilience. While in college and when I face difficulties in life, I will encourage myself by remembering what my aunt has often told me: “You’re destined to be great.” I can achieve anything I set my mind to do, I have family members that believe in me and come June 2020, I will be the first person in my family to graduate from high school!  I could not be happier about that because I have younger cousins that look up to me. I’m excited to set an example for them and give them that confidence they need after overcoming all the obstacles we faced growing up.

Monday, August 26, 2019

"Beauty in Vulnerability," by Laihha Organna



I’ve experienced hunger, poverty—broken flip-flops-duct-taped-to-my-feet kind of poverty. Abuse: physical, verbal, and emotional and a never-ending cycle. Poison, the drugs and alcohol kind. The kind where your mother’s heart stops over and over. Yet she lives, holding on by a thread. Not for her children, and not for herself but just for more poison. The kind of poison she loved so much that she shared with my sweet sisters in the womb, one of them born with a lethal combination of alcohol and meth in her veins. The kind of poison that sounds like angry voicemails from my father, the kind of poison that dressed the beautiful hearts of my parents in disguise, never to be seen again.
The kind of poison that made me the girl with homeless parents. The kind of poison that took my father’s life. The kind of poison that I call abandonment. Abandonment that sounds like Mom saying, “I’ll be back for dinner,” and then not seeing her for three whole years. The kind of abandonment that looks like an empty seat at graduation. The kind of abandonment that looks like missed calls and texts left unread. A lack of power, self-worth, and utter abandonment left me to pick up the pieces of my being, attempting to put myself back together without any glue.
“Why me? Why couldn’t I be like everyone else,” I asked? Until I realized, I don’t ever want to be like anyone else. That path was never meant for me. I stopped sucking it up all the time, trying to be strong for those around me. I found beauty in vulnerability. I found confidence through my story and its ability to empower others. One day, I decided it was time to rewrite my story. It was time to create my life. And that my lack was not who I was.
Listen the entirety of Laihha’s first podcast—and many to come—at: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/laihha-mossnovak/your-fire-ignited?refid=stpr

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Guest Author: Theresa Walelu

The first day of school, I just entered the school building. I didn’t know what to do. English I didn’t know how to speak. I met a white girl in the hallway. How to start to ask for help? “Hi” is the only word I knew in English. “Hi,” I said to the white girl. “Hi,” she replied. “No English,” I responded. “Oh, it’s fine,” the white girl said. She took me to the main office. There was a white lady sitting. She had gray hair and love to smile. You could tell when you just took a look at her face.
               “Hey, what can I help with?” the white lady asked.
               “Oh, sorry, she doesn’t know how to speak English,” the white girl responded.
               “OK, no problem,” she said.
               She looked at my eyes. “You speak Swahili, don’t you?” she asked. I checked my head up (yes). She made an appointment with my counselor. “Sit there, your counselor will come to take you.” The white girl went back to class. “Asete” (thank you), I said. “My pleasure,” she said while she left the main office.
               After a while a beautiful lady came out of the small room, with such good red heels and a black skirt. “Mbuyamba Walelu, come with me.” Luckily there was a man in her office who spoke the same language as me. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
               “I want my schedule and to know how to get to my classes. I don’t know anything. It is my first time going to school here in America,” I said in my language. The young man that was sitting next to me said it in English.
               They gave me my class schedule and someone showed me where all my classes were located. He did a great job showing me around the building.
               Then I was in my first period class. There were some students who spoke my language. They welcomed me and introduced themselves. Then it was my turn to speak. How could I start? I knew nothing about English. I was talking to myself inside my heart. ”My name Theresa” said my voice a while later. All the class started laughing. “What did I say funny that makes you all happy and to laugh?” I asked.
               “The way you say it is funny,” all the classmates responded.
               “It is not funny to laugh at someone when she speaks, OK,” the teacher said. “OK, everyone apologize to Mbuyamba.”
               “OK, we are sorry. OK, don’t get mad.”
               “Ok,” I said.
               Then the day was good. I met a lot of good friends. Some spoke English, others spoke my language.
               I learned how to speak English in a week. Everyone was surprised, especially my family. My family was happy. Then they found someone to help them with English in any way.
               Now it’s two years. If I tell someone that I have lived in America for two years, no one believes me. I didn’t want to give up on myself. I want to tell those who used to laugh at me that. I can now speak English better than you who have lived here for five years.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Guest Author: Christina Mai

The author, center, with two of her FRINQ students,
Meiling and Paola, after they led a story exchange.

Three and a half years ago, I was at my sophomore year in college. One day, my dad pulled me aside and asked me whether I wanted to study abroad. My family is not rich at all. I guess I am the child who is the best at studying among my siblings, so I was given the privilege to use such a big amount of money. I thought about my dad’s question. I imagined how my next few years would look like if staying in China or if studying in the U.S. For the first scenario – staying in China – I knew I would finish the rest of college, find a not-bad job, and probably be urged to get married with someone. (In our culture, people usually think girls should settle down and enter another life stage of marriage right after graduation.) I could see clearly the day to day life and already knew what would come along the way. What if l left for the U.S.? It was unknown. I could not imagine the possibilities. It would be challenging definitely to start up in a new environment. But the process of figuring out the uncertainty and observing how I would react to this intrigued me. So I made up my mind. I wanted to go.
When I arrived in the U.S., I was excited and curious about most of the things I saw, including the delicious and big-sized hot dog at Costco at the price of only $1.50. However, the honeymoon period didn’t last for long. Actually, on the first Friday night of the first term, having been holding all the emotions for the whole week, I cried out in front of my roommate. I barely understood the class and I couldn’t join the conversation of classmates at all because my English was so poor. I felt deprived of the right to express myself. All that I could do was either looking at people with a puzzled face, or maintaining an awkward smile pretending that I got what they were saying. At that moment, I felt huge restriction here while back in my home country, I knew the language, the culture; I could laugh immediately after hearing the jokes; I could tell my true thoughts fluently and completely. I didn’t have to tell others my favorite snack was chocolate, when asked, only because I didn’t know the English name of other snacks. Besides losing a way of self-expression, I passively lost or/and unconsciously gave up my way of interacting with people. For some reasons, which I haven’t figured out yet, I believed that my culture would not work here. Such a thought put me into a tough situation actually. Every time when I wanted to chat with others, before my mouth opened, I doubted myself – was it normal for Americans to ask this? Did they say like this? Would I sound weird? With such questions popping in my brain, I stepped back and stayed silent. Gradually, I increasingly feared interacting with people. I avoided talking with anyone. My life was plain, class and home, but no friends. I started to become addicted in Youtube since it took over my mind and allowed me to stop thinking about the frustrating reality. Obviously, it didn’t help at all but worsened my life. I was stuck in my comfort zone. On my first Christmas holiday in the U.S., I was at home sleeping all day long and thinking that I was so useless and incapable. Until then, I realized that I might be sick mentally, seized by the depressed emotion.
After the darkest and saddest Christmas holiday in my life (hopefully there will be no worse one :p), another term started. To some extent, it saved me. It forced me to walk out from home and meet people. At that moment, the only thing that I thought I could do well was my school work. I made efforts and saw the progress, which brought me happiness and increased my feeling of self-worth. I understood only 50% of the lessons, but I put 200% of my attention on every single word of professors and tried to comprehend and even guess it. It took me 15 minutes to read one full page, but I kept reading the textbooks and spent hours and hours in front of the desk. I wish I could share some miracles about how I overcame the language barrier in one night. But there is none. The process was slow and exhausting, but I have been improving my English skills and building up my confidence. I also went to a Chinese church where I could speak both Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese every week and made some friends there. They prayed for me. They helped me choose to accept my current situation instead of blaming myself for the weaknesses. They encouraged me to stop feeling guilty about the time that I had wasted in watching Youtube, and instead, to look forward and make the most of what I had and do what I could do. A baby step was still a step!
With a renewed mindset, I pushed myself a bit further out of my comfort zone by checking out the opportunities to interact with others. During the process, I practiced my English and also learned more about American culture through observing how people talk and act. I started volunteering in free food distribution to the community and homework help for high schoolers. The first turning point of my journey in America came in the end of my first academic year. A student leadership program called International Students Mentor Program was recruiting mentors for new international students. I was eager to help international students as one of them who struggled with the adjustment process. I was not sure if I could be capable to help, but I wanted to give it a try. So I applied for it and got the interview invitation. With zero experience in American interviews, I did badly. But maybe my strong desire to help international students impressed the interviewers. I finally heard back from the program right before their first meeting as the last candidate chosen. I was thrilled about the valuable opportunity. I met with other international student mentors on the training days and we formed friendships with each other. For the first time, I felt belonging because there was a group of people who I knew about and could say hi to on campus. I was not nobody anymore.
After this leadership program, I realized that I could do more than what I thought, so I began looking for part-time jobs and other opportunities to get involved in the campus life and American society. I applied for jobs till midnight. As a result of no working experience in the U.S., I got refusal emails. I felt sad that no one was willing to pay for my hard work. But I told myself that I would not consider giving up before I received the 100th rejection. Fortunately, before getting 100 “NO”s I got my first job in the U.S. as a peer advisor helping business students with course selection and other academic issues. Later on, I became coordinator of Organization of International Students at school, Peer Mentor conducting mentor sessions for freshmen twice a week, and got multiple internships in various industries. The process seems smooth but I know it was not in reality. In my first few weeks advising business students, I was scared that I couldn’t understand their cases and help them. So I had to pray and calm myself down before meeting each of them. As I got familiar with the work, I gained more confidence and started to purely enjoy helping students solve their problems after putting down my worries. There were many moments like this when I faced the difficulties and failures, kept trying, and finally overcame them and moved forward.
Looking back to the past few years in America, I want to thank all the nice people who supported me and encouraged me, and thank myself who didn’t give up in face of whatever obstacles. I am so proud of all the efforts that I made to get adjusted to the new culture. At this moment, I don’t clearly know my future. But I know I will thrive as I keep trying to make the most of the situation where I am.