College Essay: Conquering a new language and a new home

Istahil Abdi
Istahil Abdi, Minneapolis Roosevelt High School

Fear and happiness hit my face.

I encourage every immigrant who feels like they are going to learn the language to have hope.

I was “home.”


I had been traveling for two long days, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Louisiana, wondering what my new life would be like. Here it was!

It was 2011. I was 10 years old. I spoke no English. Every neighbor’s door was closed. I felt alone. When I sat in class, I was different than the rest. Communicating was impossible. I was left alone to whatever my luck was. Everything felt so strange, yet my dream of becoming a doctor empowered me to succeed in my new country.

My six months in Lafayette, Louisiana felt like a lifetime. When I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota—and finally around people like me again—in 2012, everything changed for the better. I had an opportunity to improve. I was more comfortable because Minnesota was more accepting and it was home to a large population of Somali refugees, like me.

I arrived and I knew that it would take time to adjust. Even though Somali was my first language, math was always my favorite subject in school. Although I was learning it in a different language, the principle and foundation were the same. Math was the only constant at that time. Solving problems made me feel good. It comforted and enlightened me. I had a reason to keep on moving. In history class, I was blinded by the language barrier. I couldn’t pay attention. But as soon as I walk into algebra class, I am alive and wide awake. Knowing substitution and elimination made me feel smarter and encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a doctor. I finally belonged.

Now, I volunteer at a Minneapolis middle school to tutor students in algebra. I was able to be myself after seeing my improvements. I was able to speak up. With all my great efforts and opportunities, I joined afterschool programs, including college preparation, leadership and cosmetology. I also played badminton. And I am also taking classes that will prepare me for the medical field, such as healthcare and medical terminology. Six years ago, I didn’t think this was possible.

Going to a Minneapolis library near my house helped me improve my English. It shaped me to be who I am. Afterschool tutoring programs got me involved in reading, drawing and competing in math. I saw my darkest moments when I failed tests. People’s judgments empowered me to work hard. I had hope. I gained confidence. I learned to be brave and stand up for myself. After three years, I was finally fluent in English. Now, I’m at the top 10 percent of my class.

After I became fluent, I felt prosperity and that I could do anything and overcome any obstacles. I can be successful if I managed to learn a foreign language in such a short time. Even when people made negative assumptions about me learning English and told me to go back to my country, I persevered. I was empowered by their negative comments. I continued learning English. I had a purpose to keep on going. I encourage every immigrant who feels like they are never going to learn the language to have hope.

Learning English taught me to believe in myself to do anything I plan to do, which is the most inspiring thing in my life now. I conquered a new language and a new country in a few years with determination and perseverance. Because I overcame a difficult task, I can succeed as a college student and as a doctor.