College Essay Boot Camp: Kickin’ students’ essays into shape

The week’s lessons were in place, the more than 30 students at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis and Harding Senior High School in St. Paul were enrolled, and the volunteer writing coaches were eager to share their expertise. There was just one big question: Would our ambitious idea of intensive one-week College Essay Boot Camps work?

What we learned is, to work one-on-one with boot campers on transforming their remarkable stories into clear, concise essays, and to see the joy and accomplishment on their faces when after just one intensive week, each has a polished college essay well, those feelings will be hard to top.

We’re delighted to share this collection of these students’ essays with you and think you’ll agree that our grand experiment was a great success.

A story of ‘survival and opportunity’

By Najma Dahir, Minneapolis Roosevelt High School

Najma Dahir headshotI HAD FIVE DAYS to quickly pack up 12 years of my life in a dirty, hot and cramped refugee camp in Ethiopia and fit it into a suitcase I shared with my mom for our long journey to America. It felt impos­sible to pack up all our memories—some of them too painful to relive, like my father leaving us. I knew I would never see my dad again and my childhood friends once we left. I couldn’t stop sobbing.

Soon, though, that sadness transformed into excitement for a new life. We waited our whole lives to escape to a country we had only heard about in stories. As the old school bus drove away from the camp for the final time, my mom said to us that in the United States, “We are going to have a better life.” And that’s all I needed to know.

My mom’s patience and resilience throughout our journey has empow­ered me to act strong for her and my siblings and overcome our obstacles. I admire my mother’s strength today like I did when my father left us when I was 7 years old. When he left, my whole world turned dark.

Early one morning, I was sleeping on the ground inside of a hut. My mom grabbed me and I was scared. “Najma kac kac wan bax­aynaye naa tos dhakhso,” my mother screamed out in Somali, telling me to get up! I saw tears coming from my mom’s eyes. I didn’t know what was going on. Then I heard my grand­mother say, “Your father left so the door is open for you … leave now!” My grandmother was kicking us out. She yelled, then she hit my mom in the head with a brown-heeled shoe.

I decided to stand up for my mom and help her. I didn’t want her to feel alone. With my father gone, I had to step up and become a second parent to my two younger brothers. At age 7, I took a job to support my family. Every day I woke up at dawn to sell sugar, oil, vegetables and gasoline, and walk to school in the afternoon.

But soon we were faced with a difficult choice: Stay in the refugee camp in Ethiopia that my family had lived in for 25 years, with no additional aid, or travel to the U.S. My family chose to move to the U.S., though without my father, in 2011.

Our first year in America was challenging. I could not under­stand my teacher or my classmates. I spoke no English. I felt so lonely and scared. After 22 days of living in Tennessee, we uprooted our lives again to move to Minnesota.

Life is much better now. The many Somalis in Minnesota have welcomed us with open arms. My Somali classmates make sure I understand my coursework and show me their support at Roosevelt High School. I strive to work hard because of what my family and I went through in the past. I want to create a better future for us. I hand in my schoolwork on time. I retake any tests or quizzes I receive low scores on. I have joined Key Club, the math team, student government, College Possible, AVID, Emergency Medical Responder, National Honor Society and badminton. These achievements make me feel empowered and deter­mined to succeed.

My life is a story of survival and opportunity. Our difficult journey to the U.S. in many ways still continues today. I must move forward and focus on my future for my family. I’m excited for college. In Ethiopia, college seemed like an unattainable dream. Now, I can make that dream come true by studying to become a doctor to support my family. I owe it all to my mother. One day, I will be able to show her how much her strength has meant to me.

‘I am in control of my future’

By Randy Cuate Galarza, Minneapolis Roosevelt High School

Randy Cuate Galarza headshotIT WAS 8 A.M. on a supposedly lazy Sunday and I had just woken up and rolled out of bed. I placed my long, brown skinny feet into my slippers and walked slowly downstairs to eat breakfast. My mom was already at the table, sitting down. I saw her staring blankly ahead. I grabbed a bowl for my cereal and glanced over to my parents’ bedroom. My dad wasn’t there. I was confused.

“Hi ma,” I said to her.

“Hi,” my mom responded in her native Spanish.

“Where’s dad?”

“He’s gone.”

“Where did he go?”

“They took him.”

The look on my mother’s face said it all.

My dad was deported. I was in shock. Immigration officials didn’t allow him to say goodbye to me or any of my three siblings. The night before was the last time I have seen my father.

That moment was a turning point for us. My life changed. My family’s life changed. I watched my mom, now a single parent of four kids, with no college education, struggle to provide for my family. She now had to work three jobs to barely keep up with rent, which meant we rarely saw her.

A few months later, on a Sunday night, I knocked on my mother’s bedroom door, then walked right in. I needed her to sign my permission slip for a field trip. I found her sitting on her queen-sized bed, looking back at me with tears running down her cheeks. I froze. I stood at the door, unable to speak. I asked her what’s wrong and sat down beside her. She told me she didn’t know if she could do it anymore: work three jobs, raise four kids by herself, put two of them through college, and still be there for her kids. It was that moment when I realized I never wanted to be in her position.

At age 16, I started to work at Burger King and Chipotle to help pay the bills. I realized that, in the future, I didn’t want to work multiple jobs to barely make ends meet. I wanted a career that would give me financial stability. I knew that college was the way to get there.

That is why I’m putting in the work and the effort right now, taking multiple IB classes, enrolling in the AVID program and receiving ACT practice help so that I can get into a good school and pursue a degree in engineering.

Math and science were subjects that always interested me. But earlier in high school, I wasn’t sure what career would be a good fit with my interests. Through my own research, I landed on engineering. During my senior year, I will be taking an engineering class to see if it’s a good fit for me.

I am still working 20 hours a week and taking challenging classes. It’s not easy to help support your family while pursuing your own dreams. At times, I have lost complete motiva-tion and fell into a state of depres-sion, but then I constantly refer back to that time I saw my mother break down and the promises I made to myself that day: I am in control of my future.

Returning to Guatemala, with a college degree

By Amner Sosa, St. Paul Harding High School

Amner Sosa headshotTHE ENGINES ROARED as we landed at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala. It was the summer of my 13th year. Outside the airport, the heat smacked me. Then I noticed the smell. It was a mixture of Amner Sosa smoke, sweat, feces and onions. Hundreds of people were pushing me and each other. Some wanted a taxi, others, a handout. Many had something to sell.

Through the commotion, one thing caught my attention the most: A man without arms or legs was being frantically dragged around on a skateboard. He wore a torn shirt and pants cut off at the legs and tucked into the back part of the shirt so they wouldn’t come off. I didn’t want to stare, but I couldn’t stop.

I will never forget the image. It has come to represent the poverty and hardship of Guatemala. I had longed to go back to Guatemala, and there I was.

I knew about Guatemala from my parents. My parents were born and raised there and both lived difficult lives in poverty. My dad worked in banana factories and in the fields detasseling corn. My mother gathered firewood from the mountains, cooked for her family of seven and did strenuous housework. My dad often tells the story of what he bought with his first job. He had saved two months to buy a small stove.

“Did your old stove break?” I blurted out, puzzled.

“No, all my childhood we couldn’t afford a stove, so I bought one for my dad,” he replied with a melancholic laugh.

My mother doesn’t talk about her personal life because she’s a private person. She says she never got to seventh grade because she was forced to stay at home and help with housework.  Like many immigrants, they came to America looking for a better, more peaceful life.

When we went back that summer I was 13, I felt like both a boy and a man, but also like I was stuck between two worlds. I felt guilty and sad knowing I was a person with opportunities unlike kids in Guatemala. It was the first time I saw and felt true poverty. Seeing the kids going to work in the corn fields, and seeing how a lot of young women were prostitutes, was a real-ity check.

That visit and my parents’ stories made my heart burn. Now I’m on fire to better my education. I want to pay back the hard work that my parents put in to raise a family. I am competitive by nature, and now I want to compete for scholar-ships. I no longer see education as something I’m obligated to do. How could I not feel fortunate to go to school?

A college degree can get me to a point where I not only will live a stable life, but also will give me the right tools to one day go back to my beloved country and help people. Maybe I’ll meet the man on the skateboard again, and this time help him get prosthetic legs.

A bully, a hijab and a lesson about communication

By Asmaa Mohamed, St. Paul Harding High School

Asmaa Mohamed headshotMY FOURTH-GRADE classmate reached out swiftly for my hijab. In the hallway at school, she closed her hand around my hijab and yanked it off my head, showing the front of my hair. She then pulled the rest of it off, revealing the rest of my hair. She kept pulling, choking me with the slightly thick fabric as it caught around my neck. I froze with shock as I fell to the cold, tile hallway floor with tears running down my face. My friends eventually rescued me and pulled her away.

I had learned doing nothing doesn’t help. I felt angry and violated, but being the non-confrontational person I am, I moved on.

That awful moment in fourth grade was not how I imagined the conversation to go. I felt frustrated, constantly being asked the same questions by my classmate.

“Why don’t you take your hijab off?”

“Why don’t you show your hair?”

“Are you bald?”

This time, I tried to explain to her without getting annoyed. I told her that as a Muslim, girls wear the hijab to hide our beauty and the gaze of men, as well as to be modest. We believe our God has commanded us to wear the hijab. That’s when she pulled my hijab off my head.

One comment that stuck with me for years was, “If you took off your hijab, you would be so much prettier.” I would lock myself in the bathroom, sit on the sink and stare at myself in the mirror. I imagined what my classmates’ reactions would be if I showed up to school without wear-ing my hijab. “Would I be prettier?” I started to wonder.

A couple of weeks before my classmate challenged me, my mom pulled me aside. She said, “I noticed a change in you, and I want you to tell me what’s going on.” I explained to her my frustrations and she developed my understanding of how I could see the situation in a more positive way and how I could help my peers understand my religion and my reasons for wearing a hijab.

When I look back at that moment, I notice that no matter how many times you explain the same thing to some people, they may not fully understand. Still, I must be patient and try telling them in different ways.

I still get asked, “Why do you wear your hijab?” And, “Why don’t you show your hair like so and so?”

Now I just look at them and say, “I want to wear a hijab for myself, not for you or anyone else.” Today I am very proud to wear a hijab.

This experience changed me as a person because I learned to stay calm and to be level-headed with others. When I disagree with someone, I tell myself to see where they are coming from, to develop understanding. I am smart and think about my decisions. I learned to be calm and communi-cate my feelings and thoughts when facing adversity.

Many challenges lie ahead of me, especially as I prepare for college and study to become a pediatric nurse. I stand proud of who I am as a Muslim woman and am ready to use my communication skills to educate others about myself.

Making my parents’ dreams come true

By Kongmeng Lor, St. Paul Harding High School

Kongmeng Lor headshotIT’S FEBRUARY 2011. I am 11. I departed Laos 36 hours ago.

Our journey took us to Thailand, then Japan, and our final destina-tion was Minneapolis. I look out the window, and notice this white stuff called “snow” for the first time. At that moment, I knew we were in America. My 7-year-old brother, and our chaperone, seated next to me, are still sleeping.

In 2005, my parents left Laos and went to America for work, but me and my brother didn’t travel with them. I was upset and sad, but I knew that they went for a better life—better jobs for my parents and a better education for me and my brother one day. I know my parents’ sacrifice wasn’t for nothing, and I hope to show them that the dream they offered us will come true.

The five years that me and my brother were left behind in Laos were hard because I didn’t gain the love that my parents could’ve given to us. I grappled with loneliness. I stayed with my uncle, but my brother lived with my grandparents. While I missed my parents, my uncle taught me things he liked, for example, math and information technology. And I started to share the same passion.

Then it was time to join my par-ents in America.

Right after the plane landed, I turned and said to my brother, “Wake up, we’re here.” Then I put my backpack on and held my brother’s hand as we started to walk toward the terminal. It was cold, but I was shaking with excitement and nervousness.

I was happy to move to America and to see my parents again. It had been a long time. I asked my brother, “Are you excited?” And he said “Yes!” We made eye contact, my parents hugged us, and that’s when I realized that our family was coming back together again.

When I first went to school, it wasn’t that hard for me to learn English because back in Laos, I already spoke English. However, the biggest difference was the food and the transportation. Back in Laos, every morning, I had to wake up and cook breakfast, then I walked to school. Here in America, cold cereal was normal to eat in the morning, and buses for students to take to school were available. This showed me that I was in a better place with good education, and made me want to work hard.

Now, as the oldest son in the family, I have to help my parents. I have to babysit my brothers and sister when I get home from school because my parents work. I also have to clean the house when the baby makes a mess, and cook for them.

I notice that even today my parents are still working so hard for me and my siblings. My father’s hard work has inspired me to work hard in school because I learned that if I have a higher education, I won’t have to go through my father’s struggle, having to decide to leave his children in another part of the world for five years and working constantly in the U.S. He works two jobs, one for a vending machine company and another as a driver.

While my dad wants me to be a doctor, my time with my uncle got me thinking about a future in infor-mation technology. I want to help out my parents right now so they won’t have to work so hard. They have sacrificed so much already. So now that I have this opportunity to go to college, I won’t let this opportunity go away because now I’m here in America and will do my best to achieve my dream of getting my master’s degree, and the dream that my parents had offered for us. One day I’ll show my parents that the dream that they have offered has came true.

My hoop dreams

By Tommy Xiong, St. Paul Harding High School

Tommy Xiong headshot“RIIIINNNNGG!” I started running. My first day in Accelerated Life Science, and I was tardy.

I quietly entered the classroom, stopped, and looked around. All I saw were unknown faces staring at me. I wanted to run away from the students.

“Oh, you must be Tommy Xiong, our new student from the other science class?” Mr. Winesch said. I responded anxiously, “Uhhh, yeah.” I felt like an outcast. Before I knew it, I had Niagra Falls rushing down my face and a flood of negative feelings inside me that would not go away.

For two weeks, I played sick in the nurse’s office during Accelerated Life Science. Finally, the nurse suggested I visit the seventh-grade counselor to talk about my anxiety and stress. I thought, “I don’t want to talk with anybody,” but I reluctantly followed the nurse. Soon, I realized time spent with the counselor was time I would not have to spend in Accelerated Life Science. That plan worked for a trimester, before I actually started to open up to my counselor, telling her about being anxious and intimidated around others.

I told her I felt like an outcast in Accelerated Life Science. I told her I felt anxious and uneasy during passing time between classes. She had some good ideas, such as reworking my course schedule and talking my parents into taking me to the doctor. This began a buildup of trust between me and my counselor. I started to go and actually talk with her every day.

Then came her boldest suggestion: Try playing sports to relieve my stress and anxiety, she suggested. I said no. “I’m too short and too fat.”

I was at my grandma’s house that spring, and my uncle asked me to play basketball. “No,” I thought. “I don’t want to suck.” I had nothing else to do though, and my coun-selor’s advice went through my head. I tagged along.

Moments later, I played my first game of basketball. I missed my first shot, then my second, third, and more. My family and friends, however, encouraged me to keep shooting and keep trying. On that day, I learned that I didn’t have to be perfect.

During the course of the summer, I started to play basketball every day. Every time I played, joy rushed through my body and mind. The more I played, the better I was and the more confident I became, both on and off the court.

This confidence transitioned into the next school year. I became more social, saw things differently and became more comfortable.

Now that I’m in high school, I see basketball as my savior. It has helped me overcome my anxiety and become confident. I am funny, involved with College Possible and have a girlfriend. My grades are improved, and I am more interested in everything school has to offer. I am more engaged in my educa-tion than ever and am particularly interested in psychology—how the mind works.

As for my mind, it is looking forward to college, my future and lifelong happiness. I call these my “hoop dreams.”

Unearthing culture through travel

By Nadiyah Miller-Celestine, St. Paul Harding High School

Nadiyah Miller-Celestine headshotON A SUMMER DAY in New Orleans, sweat beaded on my forehead during my first visit to a city that dazzled with metallic and was friendlier than my Midwestern hometown. My family and I strolled through the French Quarter, peering into corner stores stocked with T-shirts, sunglasses and jewelry. I saw a city flecked with dazzling purple, green and yellow, warmer than the frigid state where I grew up. The city’s pride for the New Orleans Saints football team remained evident in streaks of gold, white or black and was signified by the Fleur-de-lis. Jazz music echoed in all the city’s corners, and golden brown beignet tasted more flavorful than the doughnuts I’ve eaten in my neighborhood. I was enchanted by the southern town, and in college, I want to continue to learn about people, places and ideas that are different from me.

The contrasts I noticed between my family’s hometown in New Orleans and my own spurred a curiosity about foreign ways of life. I spoke differently than my southern family, and I occasionally became confused by their language, because we chatted with different slang. We assigned different meanings to the same words. The phrase “good minute” didn’t really translate to sixty seconds, and the word “ice box” labeled the refrigerator. They even used “beaucoup,” the French word for “a lot,” which I learned in my French class during high school.

The experience of traveling to New Orleans exposed me to the culture in ways I couldn’t have studied in a textbook. During my trip to New Orleans, I learned to accept regional differences within my own family that I didn’t expect, equipping me with the gumption to seek out commonalities with other people. I want to travel and notice more about the differences in how others talk and how they build a community around them. In Minnesota, if you walk by a stranger, you could just ignore their existence. In the south, however, it would seem natural to talk to complete strangers, and a minimal greeting might offer, “Good morning,” or “Good evening,” or “Have a nice day.” The southern United States glowed with a more welcoming vibe than Minnesota.

I loved going to New Orleans because I found out that after visit-ing, I developed an excitement about all the new information I learned. I learned more about my family’s past and the connection that New Orleans shared with French culture. I also found out more about where my family grew up and how they lived. I learned that my relatives celebrated different holidays, such as Mardi Gras, and ate different types of foods, such as Gumbo and crawfish.

After visiting New Orleans, I considered other places and other cultures that enrich the world, and I realized that I wanted to see those cultures unfold live while comparing them to my own. I want to better understand my own points of view by hearing, tasting and smelling other cultures while traveling to other foreign places. I want to visit cities such as Paris and unearth more differences between their culture and mine, and observe and maybe par-ticipate in other people’s traditions. Better yet, I want to contemplate those cultural differences that I’ll find among others around the world and bring them back to Minnesota.

When I go to college, I will con-tinue to learn about the histories, rituals and quirks that define other cultures while also traveling to new places. In New Orleans, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and learned the value in witnessing and interacting with people in their own neighborhoods. It helped me meet new people and taste new types of foods, and listen to new genres of music. This experience helped me learn to adapt and become open to new environments I am exposed to, and accept people and learn about them. I feel traveling abroad while in college will broaden my perspec-tives on myself and others, and when I travel back home, I’ll have more stories to tell.

Learning from a mother’s persistence

By Nugomsa Mohammed, Minneapolis Roosevelt High School

Nugomsa Mohammed headshotJULY 4, 2010. I was playing soccer with my friends in Kenya. When I got home, my mom was happy to the point where she couldn’t talk.

She ran up to me and gave me a kiss on my forehead. I asked her, “Mom, what is going on?”

“We’re going to America,” my mom said. She had a phone call from the United Nations telling her that our flight would be on July 7, 2010. I was overwhelmed and did not know what to do.

Now I could go to America  to get my education and have a  good future.

I was born in Ethiopia. I am the youngest of five siblings. When I was 2, my mother took me and my oldest brother to Kenya in order to come to America. She did not know what Kenya would hold, so she didn’t want to bring the whole family.

We were supposed to come to America on Sept. 15, 2001. On our way to the airport, my mother got a phone call from the U.S. Embassy, telling her our flight was cancelled due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

My family was disappointed.

It took nearly 10 years to finally come out of Kenya. It was great spending the decade in Kenya, but we had to leave for a better future.

I was looking forward to coming to the U.S. But when I got here it was not what I expected. I expected tall buildings everywhere in the city. I expected life to be easy. I expected people to have fun, not to be focused on work.

I spoke Swahili and Oromo in Kenya, which gave me an advantage to learn English in America quickly. But it was still difficult at times. One of those times was on the plane on our way to America.

I had to use the plane bathroom. When I finished, I wanted to get out but the door wouldn’t open. It had instructions, but I couldn’t read English. My only way out was to calmly knock on the door until someone heard. I panicked about not knowing who was going to come and help me. Thankfully, the guy who came knew how to speak Swahili and gave me instructions on how to open the door.

The first couple weeks in Seattle, I was nervous not knowing how my life would change. I stayed in the house because I did not want to go outside not knowing English at all.

I moved to Minnesota my seventh-grade year. I started to feel comfortable speaking English because I practiced with my cousins who were here before me. I got removed from ESL classes my eighth-grade year. Growing up loving sports, I started football and wrestling my sophomore year. It helped me be confident in myself and be mentally strong.

In 2014, my brothers and dad came to Minnesota. At the airport, it was the first time my whole family had been together in 10 years. I was excited to know now I have brothers who will have my back.

Watching my mother always trying to bring us into America, her not giving up, has inspired me to adapt to the culture in America. For nine years, my mom would go to the U.N., calmly asking them, “Where is the process going? How long are we going to be here?”

It showed me to not give up on things easily.

It made me want to not stop learning English when people didn’t understand what I was saying. When I tried to fit in and change who I am so I could look American, my mother told me, “Be yourself and the right people will come along.” Despite all the difficulty, I managed to get through it with my mother and brothers beside me.

My experience with my mother has made me look at my future in a different way. I feel like I have a life to live in the future. I want to go to college and get my degree and be the first to graduate from college. And always appreciate what my mother has done for my family.

From dentures to dentist

By Tina Vang, St. Paul Harding High School

Tina Vang headshotIt was time for bed. As I walked down the hall and passed the bathroom, I saw my father out of the corner of my eye. He looked unhappy. I slowed my walk. I noticed he had laid out super glue, sandpaper, a dental scaler and a dental tweezers. I was confused. My 40-year-old father had perfect teeth.

In my early childhood, my father would spend most of his time in the bathroom, sitting on the sink, facing the mirror. I was curious one night before bed and stood by the door watching him from afar. What I saw amazed me. My father pulled his perfect teeth out of his mouth! I thought to myself, “What is he doing with those perfect teeth? Can I take my teeth out like that?” I was impressed. The more times I saw him do this, though, I noticed what was happening and what he was doing. He was picking leftover food off his dentures, not his perfect teeth.

My father didn’t have the opportunity to see a dentist when he was younger. He grew up in Laos, poor and homeless. He lived through the war. He emigrated from a refugee camp in Thailand to the United States during the 1980s, along with my mother, two sisters and my brother. They came from a place where they had to provide everything for themselves, such as crops and livestock, as well as make their own clothes and travel everywhere by foot. In the U.S., they had three more children: my older and younger sisters, and me. I am the fifth of seven children.

My father didn’t have the support of a dentist back in Laos, and I often feel I don’t have the support of my parents here. They are very traditional, old school and they don’t speak English. They think education is unimportant, even useless, and they don’t encourage my siblings and me to take school seriously. I think that’s why my older siblings gave up easily on school. My parents were strict, and didn’t let them do anything after school, such as sports, clubs or even teacher help and retakes for tests. When I come home after a long day of school, my parents expect me to provide food by 7 p.m., clean the house and finish laundry before bed. My older siblings finished high school, and one got an associate’s degree. I am determined to achieve much, much more.

Back to my father and his dentures. He has a difficult time biting and chewing, because he has lost multiple teeth and his gums give him pain. Watching my father struggle and not ever enjoy a pain-free meal has made me determined to achieve my dream of being a dentist.

I know the right education is essential. During my sophomore year of high school, I signed up with College Possible to explore options, prep for ACTs and visit campuses. As a junior, I am learning even more about what it takes to become a dentist. As I write this, I am in the process of arranging a “shadow day” with a dentist. I’m investigating schooling options and dental programs. I’m learning about oral hygiene on my own time. I am determined to become a dentist.

The pain I see my father live with every day has inspired me to become someone who helps people like him, and gives them opportunities to enjoy life. To me, my father’s dentures are the “perfect teeth” that push me toward my dream every day.

Dispelling the stereotypes

By Redwan Hassan, Minneapolis Roosevelt High School

Redwan Hassan headshotI remember the words that killed my spirit. I had been in America for only one month, when my Chicago public school teacher handed back my math test with a perfect 4. I smiled.

But the boy next to me looked over.

“Hey, she got a perfect score,” he said.

Then, someone else said, “She can’t. I think she cheated.”

They assumed I cheated because I didn’t know English. But I knew math was different. The students whispered and laughed at me. Tears ran from my eyes. I felt lonely. I felt angry. I felt powerless and speechless. I felt hurt.

The negative assumptions people have made about me since I came to the United States from Somalia have inspired me to work hard and have helped me to achieve success, including membership in the National Honor Society.

I want that hard work to carry me through college, so that I can learn new skills, dispel negative attitudes about immigrants and prepare myself for a career in dentistry. I’d like to help improve dentistry in Somalia, where it is rare.

I arrived in Chicago as a refugee from Somalia on Oct. 28, 2011. My mom was looking for a better life for us and a doctor for my little sister, who is disabled. I felt joyful because I knew my sister was going to get a doctor and a better life.

My life in the United States was better than the one in our refugee camp in Ethiopia because my mom was not worrying about what we were going to eat and our education. But I didn’t know any English and that frustrated me. Many people believe if you don’t know the language then you know don’t know anything.

During our month in Chicago, students at school treated me rudely and like a dumb person. Sometimes I hated school and thought about dropping out, but I wanted to prove them wrong. I wasn’t dumb. And I am a hard worker.

My experience changed when we moved to Minneapolis. I learned that if one group of people is bad, that doesn’t make the whole country bad. I found welcoming students who were willing to show me around school and know the feeling of not knowing the language.

I met a girl named Najma the first day of school.

“If you need help, let me know,” she said. I felt relieved, and that was the first moment that I liked school in America.

I became involved in after-school activities, including Key Club, College Possible, Student Government, the Math Team, Emergency Medical Responders, Avid and the National Honor Society. I also play badminton.

In those activities, I met people like me and people who allowed me to feel comfortable in my own way. I was able to build communication skills and become a problem-solver and a leader. Those skills impact my life because now I can communicate with people and I can solve my own problems without asking someone else to do it for me.

What I learn in college will help me to change the bad view that people believe about immigrants who settle here to achieve a better life and a better future for their children. I want to represent the children for whom English is not their first language, and I want to let the world know that all human beings are unique. In order to do this, I have to go to college and learn journalism so I can tell the untold story of immigrant people.

I also want to learn dentistry education skills. When I was in Somalia and at the Ethiopian camp, I never got the opportunity to visit a dentist, so I want people at camps and in Somalia to have healthy teeth.

Despite the negative stereotypes, I believe in myself and my ability to achieve my goals.