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International Essay Contest winners.

INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ESSAY
CONTEST WINNERS ANNOUNCED

Jaysmit Jadhav was named the winner of the inaugural International Student Essay contest hosted by the International Student Center. A graduate student from India, Jadhav earned the top honor among the 23 entrants with his charming telling of adjusting to life in the U.S. and overcoming the stresses inherent in such a life-changing transition.

Freja Liljedahl of Sweden and Olivia Ou of Taiwan earned second- and third-place honors, respectively, while Denise Chang of Malaysia and Essa Alshammari of Saudi Arabia received honorable mention.

The contest was started with the purpose of building mutual respect through empathy, allowing domestic SDSU students to better understand the international student experience. Writing on the theme of “In My Shoes”, international students were asked to share their insights, thoughts and emotions (both good and not-so-good) from their experience at SDSU.

The winners were announced at a special reception on March 25 at the International Student Center, and all entrants were congratulated by guest speaker Dr. Alan Sweedler, assistant vice president for international programs.

Below are the five winning essays, presented in their entirety and without edits:
 


 

First place: Jaysmit Jadhav, India, “A Spicy Thank You"

First place winner Jaysmit Jadhav  

I called her at 1 am and said, “We have been together for 7 years but we can’t be anymore”. My best friend was shocked. I continued, “I can’t come with you to San Diego State University. My parents are getting old and I’m their only son. They don’t want me to leave”. “But going to SDSU together was your idea”, she yelled. After a lot of arguing and convincing, at 3:15 am, she said, “Fine”. I bid her bye and she left for SDSU alone.


Two days later it was her birthday. I called her exactly at midnight according to Pacific Time zone and wished her. “It would have been a lot better if you were here”, she expressed. “But I can’t be, I’m sorry”, I said. She put me on hold as she heard a knock on her door. She opened it to find me with a cake and a bottle of wine! She hugged me tight enough that it felt home 8822 miles away. Yes! SDSU was never off the table. I had to take a tiring 44 hour journey from Mumbai to San Diego to be there at the right time to pull off my crazy drama. I would not say I had the worst 44 hours of my life when I was travelling but it were not the best either, but all that kookiness was worth it.

From the day I got my acceptance letter in April, I had to convince my parents daily, to let me go. It was tough for stereotypical Indian parents to see their only kid who laid on the sofa and watched TV won’t be there anymore. Every day I had to come up with an argument to leave and they had their counter-argument. Some of them were legitimate like without any guardian’s supervision I would not give enough attention to my health. Whereas some were haunting like “You’ll get someone pregnant!” or “You’ll start drinking and you’ll fall somewhere in the street and freeze to death”. And then I had to remind them that I would be going to sunny San Diego. There was so much on their mind that it took over a month before they started to repeat themselves and it took another two before they became tired of doing that.

Warnings and terrifying stories ceased at the end of the third month and shopping began. At the end of shopping spree we ended up with three full trolley bags of every kind of cloth a man could possibly wear and a lot of Indian homemade grounded spices. I said to my mom, “I don’t even know the names of these spices. I’m never going to use them”. She said, “Son, you will someday call to thank me for those”, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

As soon as I landed, I felt that Google wasn’t enough to know all about San Diego. The shuttle which I had booked from India was waiting for me. The driver asked me to sit inside while he loaded the bags in the trunk. I hurriedly opened the left door of the shuttle which reminded me that this wasn’t India to have driver’s seat on the right side. The driver sarcastically asked me if I wanted to drive. As the shuttle moved through the downtown, I was captivated by its beauty.

The mammoth buildings scintillated as I could see their reflection in the Pacific. I had to temporarily stay at a fellow senior’s place who took me to a store to get the cake and wine. At the billing counter the cashier asked me for my passport. I got confused and asked her, “Should I carry my passport every time I purchase anything?” I was concerned because I would definitely misplace it if I would be carrying it every day. She smiled and said, “Only if you are buying liquor”. I always looked younger than other people of my age. Although I was 21, I looked like an 18 year old Indian or a 14 year old American. As I observed the people around, my banal image of an obese “American” holding a big gulp while eating a cheeseburger shattered. I was in Southern California where people gave huge importance to fitness or maybe just followed Will Ferrell’s advice, “Stay classy, San Diego!”

The next couple of days went in buying a new phone, getting a bank account, California state ID and checking in at the university’s International Student Center. People were very polite and were greeting enthusiastically. They were genuinely kind and interested in helping me. Indians make great hosts as they follow Sanskrit verse ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ which means ‘be one for whom the guest is God’, but it felt like Americans knew it better. I went to a diner, the diner lady asked, “Hey honey, are you ready to order?” I muttered something in confusion. I had never experienced so much niceness that I couldn’t read the menu anymore. She cajoled, “Honey! Honey! It’s okay, take your time. I’ll be back in 15 minutes. I’ll take care of you.” As she walked away I wondered that my own mother hasn’t talked to me like that!

I signed a lease to rent an apartment. The bed I ordered from IKEA came in a tiny box. It took me 3 hours to assemble it which helped me sleep like a baby. I was independent. The amount of freedom this country entrusts is immense. But it also meant that I was all by myself. Whether I succeeded or failed, it would be entirely up to me. It was my challenge, one that I accepted and vowed that I would thrive in. I was the one who was in control. I took a deep breath and whispered to myself, “Embrace me, Oh America!”

I had to attend orientation program for international students. The sight of students of 96 nationalities in one hall was exuberant. We were given guidelines about everything from immigration, employment to health and safety. The International Student Center was an extended family for all the international students. I was overjoyed about the increased access to technology and infrastructure I was experiencing.

And then the classes began. The classes were very interactive unlike lectures in India. Exciting events from Aztec Nights to welcome students were amusing. Now that was the zenith for me. Watching thousands of fans cheering for the football and basketball games induced Aztec patriotism in me. Attending Indian festivals, which had a lot of variety in cuisine, along with other students from different Indian cultures and regions helped me know about the traditions they followed. I would have never thought that I would be learning about India in the US.

The assignments started trickling in. One of the course that I took was considered to be the toughest at SDSU. My first assignment was arduous, but I managed it. I got the second before the first was due. The “honeymoon” period was over. I had three assignments and two quizzes to do weekly. I had no idea how Americans managed to go home on the weekend, hang out and still did all the work they were supposed to. Everyday was a new struggle for me. At this point I was still not admitting to myself that I was experiencing any form of cultural shock. Then came the big final project. I strived, but couldn’t do it. I felt like I was drowning. I gave up, I called my parents and told them I was coming back home. Although they were dismayed, they respected my decision. I booked my ticket home and went to say goodbye to my professor. The way he motivated me saying failure is not an option, not only helped me to come up with the best results for my project but also earned me the highest grade! I don’t know what it is like go to war, but for me that was same. I couldn’t ask for a better school!

I have been challenged a lot to reach out to people and become more open. In India, walking up to someone and introducing yourself can be perceived as impolite in certain settings, though here it is not so much the case. Being around forward, opinionated, expressive people has helped me express my thoughts and opinions more, especially in public settings. I learned how to make friends and not to hurt people. I learned how things work and how things need to be done. I learned not only how to program software but also how to program my life so that it is free of any debacles. I strongly feel that coming to SDSU was one of the best decisions of my life and taught me many lessons throughout every step. Whatever I learned here will surely help me run faster than heartbeat and gallop ahead of dreams. And I will owe it all to SDSU like every proud Aztec!

Last week I made the classic Indian chicken curry. I was astonished to find that it had the same aroma and taste exactly like my mom’s. I rushed to call her and ask how? Was it genetics? She gibed, “Didn’t I say that I’ll receive a call for the same?” A lot of emotion flooded in with that rhetorical question. I softly said, “Thank you”. She said, “That thank you is too blunt. I need a better one. A spicy thank you!!!”



Second place: Freja Liljedahl, Sweden, untitled

“This I did pretty damn good!” I suddenly heard a voice say. It made me drop the pen when I sat and drew with my classmates in elementary school. It rolled along the table for several seconds but I didn't react until I heard it hit the floor. It was the first time in my then nine year long life that I had heard someone say, the in Sweden forbidden sentence, a sentence that makes every Swedish person sweaty and anxious: This I did pretty damn good. There was a boy in my class who said it, his name was Chris, and all I knew about him was that he had an American dad. Chris was different form the rest of us, he talked a lot and was very confident, two characteristics that are not very common in my home country, but that I later in life would learn is common and appreciated here, in the United States of America. Sweden is the country of modesty, everything is moderate there. We're moderately nice, moderately funny and moderately talented. It doesn't matter if the question is “how good are you at maths?”, “how spicy do you want your chicken?” or “how good of a friend are you?”, the answer is always “moderate”.

Although I thought what Chris said was strange back then, I think that a dream was born within me that day: a dream to be good at things and to be able to say it out loud, a dream go to the United States, the one country in the world where success is cool and nothing to be ashamed of. Barack Obama isn't ashamed to say that the USA can succeed in every area, and he gladly says that it can be done because of him and his followers. Meanwhile in Sweden, politicians almost appologize when something goes their way, and they make sure everyone knows that it's certainly not because of their particular contribution. I didn't want to tell anyone, but I started to dream about becoming great at things, and to be happy about, and to share my success with others.

Today, twelve years later, that dream about living in the States is my reality. Two years ago I finally found the courage to move over seas to go to college at San Diego State University, a decision that turned out to be the best one so far in my life, but also a decision that would involve way more cultural differnces than I ever could have imagined. I'm going to tell you two short stories about how difficult it can be to be around people that are not like yourself, both of them from my very first week at SDSU when this was particularly clear.

My very first day here was a Tuesday, a week before school started. I'm on the Track and Field team and this Tuesday was the first day of practice with my new team, and I was so excited. As a person who has always been very social and who loves meeting new people, I couldn't wait to meet the 38 other girls on my team, making my first American friends. I mean, of course I wanted American friends, since the main reason why I decided to move here was to become more outgoing and less moderate, more American and less Swedish. I'm a thrower so when meeting the other throwers, the first thing we talked about was quite obviously how far we can throw. One of them said right away “I'm a discus thrower so that's what I'm really good at, but I can also throw the javelin which I'm quite good at too”. Swedish as I am I started sweating, since that statement was very much similar to the sentence that I knew from my first breath was forbidden to say: “this I did pretty damn good”. My teammate's statement was followed by six other similar ones, one from each of the other throwers. I was fascinated by their answers, they were exactly as confident as I had imagined and as the stereotype suggests. What did surprise me however, was the fact that now that I had moved 5000 miles to meet people like this and to become one myself, I wasn't sure if I liked it. I was actually pretty confident that I didn't. Then it was my turn to tell them about my throwing abilities, and I said I was moderately good. I saw them looking at me in a similar way that I had looked at Chris when I was 9, the way you look at someone you find strange.

A similar thing happened during my first class period, the first time I was in an American classroom. I was nervous but excited, the same feeling that I had had before my first day of practice. The teacher said good morning and asked how everyone's summer break had been, and yes, that's of course exactly what a Swedish professor would have done too. The next part is what differs. I waited for the teacher to keep going with the introduction and start the lecture, but then I saw the hands. It was a big class with more than 300 students, and 50 of them had their hand up. I was chocked and embarrased, were they really going to answer the question about how their summer break had been? Didn't they understand that if the teacher asks something you're supposed to just sit there and look down, and hope that he or she will keep talking without forcing some poor student to answer? Once again I was fascinated by my new American peers, they were exactly as open and talkative as I had imagined. However, I wasn't quite sure if I liked that either.

It took a lot of time and tears to understand this new way of thinking, and getting used to being the “strange one” and not the one who saw others as that was the hardest, but definitely the most awakening, pill to swallow. I've learned so much during the two years I've been here and I think I've changed to the better, but I'm not the American girl that I thought I would be by now. I've learned that your culture is deeply rooted in who you are, so no matter how much I've learned to appreciate differences in people, and how much I've been influenced and changed, I'm always going to be Swedish, with the goods and bads that come with it. I truly want to think that I get happy when I see people succeed, now that I'm no longer nine, and  now that I live in he US, but why then am I sweating still today when I think back to that one time when the American boy Chris in my elementary school class said that his drawing was good? I don't remember what anyone else said in elementary school, probably because they were just as shy and moderate as me.

Being moderate and shy is not necessarily bad, I truly think that it leads to many decent, and often good, lives. But is that really what we want, to lay on our deathbeds and think that life was okay? I dont think so. I think that we want to take our last breath after saying the forbidden, and according to a now 21 year old me, a fantastic, sentence: ”This I did pretty damn good!”


 

Third place: Hsuan-Min “Olivia” Ou, Taiwan,
“Should-Have-Known-Before-Landing List”

For the very first time, the feeling of life controlling in hands. Must this called the atmosphere of freedom? Or it might be just the illusion made up by my imagination for it is what people all over the world say about America. I could finally follow my heart and go where I have been dreaming for more than ten years. I wanted to study in United States.

I stepped out of my comfort zone and started to take this challenge of life in the hot summer days in 2015. I always had this stereotype for that United States of America is a little Hollywood; California is a movie; the school would be the scene you’ve seen on the screen; and every single one shall be a superstar shining in their own way just like High School Musical. I smiled to everyone I met in the airport, men or women, grown or little, beings or pets; asked every questions that came up in my mind to whoever I met in the moment, the passengers, flight attendants, and Custom officers; reading again and again about all the notes in my “should-have-known-before-landing list,” even when I was already sitting in my dormitory.

It took me almost two days to be here. How long will it take for me to really live the life here, on campus in San Diego State University in California? I was all alone in Villa Alvarado trying to make the first meal of my American life. I thought that was pretty crazy. Over nearly 40 hours ago, I was waiting in the Taoyuan International Airport with my dad, who companied me in the airport over night just to make sure I could make the morning flight. Because it was a 5-hour drive from home to airport, we had to make it there the night before. We didn’t say much about missing each others afterwards or have a conversation about how far the distance would be. The only thing we talked about was “it is a 14-hour time difference.” I did not cry. Not in front of my dad.

I would still describe the very first month in San Diego was the best time of my life. It was refreshing, magical, but challenging. It was frustrating, tangling, but full of surprises. I met friends on campus, on the way home, in the random setting up to San Diego Zoo. Some of us met once and never again; some we call each others buddies now; some are those who make you feel home again; some would just blow your minds away because of their talents.

“I have been there, you know,” said my Indian roommate. It was the first financial struggle I had and I just want to talk to someone who have more experiences of dealing with these kind of things. Mentioning that maybe moving out is a better idea; however she said, “I thought it’s expensive to live on campus for my first year, but as you think more about how much you can concentrate and how convenient it is to get to school...” I interrupted it with almost a teardrop saying that because of the exchange rate and the value of the currency, it is ridiculous to pay six times more for a month, comparing to living in Taiwan. She gave me a hug and said “Exactly. And at the end of the day, focusing on our academic achievement is the purpose why we are here.” I cried secretly that night thinking of my family and all the saving I started when I was 18. It made me more determined to focus on my achievement in SDSU.

Taiwanese people think you stand out and somehow very shrewd and smart speaking fluent English. They said, “You will fit in really fast with ability to speak in English like that. You shall be very popular there.” Therefore it makes me feel special to speak both Mandarin and English fluently here. But not within a week after the class started, I broke down fast and find no place to stand on my own feet. I felt drifting and about to sink because people here in San Diego speak at least two languages ― Spanish and English ― and it is normal, not what Taiwanese so called special. I can not even raise my voice loudly and proudly in the classroom, let alone to be popular. Then, I met a guy. And yes, he is now my boyfriend.

He says, “The first quarter of being TA was a disaster.” I know, this is what I call tangling and challenging, “so what did you do?”

“I collected all their opinions by giving every one of them an anonymous card.” He drove with both palms holding the steering wheel, looking straight.

“How was it?” I turned to him.

“Depressing bad.” Then he went on to explain how he made a change for that and became their “favorite TA of the year” supported by more than 300 undergraduate students in a class.

“You did it within what? A semester?” He corrected me, “no, two months.”

I made decision that night that I will make my voice being heard in class. At first I still have to do the translate in my mind. After lots of opportunities to discuss topics and topics with professors and my schoolmates, not only I found my voice but also my identity of who I am and who I expect myself to be in the future ― an educator. It was refreshing.

I remember the first thing that caught my attention after arrival was the height of the toilet and car seats. The toilet seems to be a little higher, one or two inches. While taking Uber with my roommates to Target, my failed sitting on the back seat that I said, “I have to give it a little jump jump to reach it.” They laughed out so hard that I can imagine what will they say if they were in Taiwan, “the car is too small and the ceiling is too low!” This kind of surprises happened to me every single day. Even until now, I have not get enough of them. Life surprises me.

Sometimes there are too many surprises that I could not hold it on to myself. There was once I broke down crying in the International Student Center in front of Miss Alison. She recommended me to apply for a mentor which I did. It was a wonderful journey with my mentor, Rosa. Later in the semester, I found that except for my fantastic roommates, Rosa is the strongest connection for me with dealing the international student issues: living on campus or not, how to adjust myself to the on-campus job, to have a writing note whenever having thoughts or reflections in the class, and so on. She reminds me, even now in the second semester that I am off the record to be her mentee, that school (International Student Center) has the support for us, no matter where you come from.

Nothing should be listed in my “should-have-known-before-landing list.” Sometimes, the best plan is not to plan; the best change is not to change. I still dream the dream; I am still who I am. The things that I thought I knew are not exactly how they are: some better, some worse; some confusing, some are just so clear to see. The environment will speak to you magically, it could be just a sign on street, some careless words from your classmates, or maybe the way sun shines today. Eventually, they will all become a part of encouragement to you to support your dream, your California dream. It’s true. I believe it because you are real and you just read my dream life story.


 

Honorable mention: Denise Chang, Malaysia, untitled

Honorable mention recipient Denise Chang 

If there were a few things that any international student would miss the most and long for in their explorations of a different country, it would be food, friends, and family. As Malaysians, we often crave the flavors of our local foods, the sound and slang of our native tongue, and late night mamak sessions on side streets with pure hometown company. In my particular case, however, it is the warmth of my mother’s tender loving care that I long for most.

It came in many forms; a bitter pot of boiling leong cha when I’m feeling unwell, or quaint conversation about life and its many quirks. It is warm snuggles under blankets despite being 21 years old and “still not ashamed of still sleeping with your mommy, kah?”

The last time I felt my mother’s warmth was at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. My going-away party consisted of a handful of close friends, my grandfather, father, sister and my beautiful mother in her kaftan pajamas, smiling and sitting in her wheelchair.

The wheelchair was no stranger to us. Definitely not to my mother and me. We had spent my last three weeks in Malaysia, in and out of Institut Jantung Negara, the National Heart Institute. My mother was undergoing a series of checkups, investigating a hiccup in her heart. A string of unfortunate incidents had led to my mother being unable to walk or support her own back, and so the wheelchair was our newest friend. We spent hours talking, holding hands and people watching at the hospital, my mama in her wheelchair and me by her side.

Before I headed through the departure gate at the airport, I gave every one that was sending me off a big warm hug. But the biggest and warmest hug came from my mama, who insisted, still in her wheelchair and unable to support herself, that “I want to stand up and say goodbye.” I lifted her gently by her armpits and felt her frail, soft body in my arms. I gave her a tiny squeeze and kissed her forehead. Till today, I understand that feeling as the purest form of love between a mother and her daughter. That was the last time I felt my mother’s warmth, in our embrace.

I remember the late April evening eight months later as clear as it is crystal. My mother had been in the hospital for a few weeks leading up to that night, and I was getting calls every now and then from Aunty Amy and Uncle Lai to return home and be by my mother’s side. With finals only three weeks away, if only it were so easy.

A blurry series of incidents led up to the moment; a panicked, phone call from my uncle, followed by my sister’s trembling voice on the line. “Mummy wants to talk to you,” she says. I press my phone to my ear, tears already pooling my eyelids, blurring my vision and threatening to give way. “Mummy, stay strong.” I say into the receiver. “I’m coming home soon.” I hear a soft groan on the other side. “I love you, mama, stay strong for me please, I’m coming home.” I beg. Too quickly, I hear my sister’s voice again. “Dee, I’ll call you back okay? I’ll call you back.” There’s a panic in her voice, one that breaks me down entirely. I hear the sharp click of the line ending.

I immediately called my father on Skype and spoke to my uncle on the phone while I stayed on the line. When he got off the phone, he didn’t have to say the words. When he did, “Dee, I’m so sorry but your mum has passed.” The world around me stopped moving.

My longest flight home to Malaysia began that very same morning. By the time I finally stepped foot on my motherland 25 hours later, my mother was already embalmed and dressed beautifully in an open casket, blue and cold.

I was given the choice to stay home in Malaysia if I wanted to. At the time, however, I didn’t understand. Of course I’m to return to San Diego. I couldn’t see it any other way. My mother wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

My experience is still a painful one. Even as I am her, attempting to put this memory into words, I don’t bother to fight back the tears. But, it was never this easy.

In the few months following my mother’s death, I spiraled into a dark and unfamiliar place. It was the summer of 2014 and I had perfected the art of pretending that I was okay. I clammed up completely about my mother’s death, and even the slightest thought of her would choke me up, swallowing any words that tried to surface. I didn’t even allow myself to cry. I avoided people, responsibility, and abandoned all hope. The truth was that I needed help, and finally I went to a Living with Loss grief group on campus.

I spent the first few meetings listening, tearing up at the stories of how others had also lost their parents and loved ones. Some more recent than mine, some over five years ago. Two boys had also lost their mother to illness, one mom suffered from SLE, a condition (one of many) that my mother also had. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this overpowering grief. When I finally had the courage to tell my story, the floodgates were released and I felt a wave of relief like I was finally able to breathe again.

It’s taken me a lot of courage and self-determination to be able to continue building my life in this foreign land. Alone, I am always out of my comfort zone, and I have worked hard to find sanctuary in my living space. Alone, I had to expose myself to the rawness of real life, and be strong-willed enough to keep going despite countless setbacks and opportunities to take the easy way out.

My mother was my best friend, my confidant, my pillar of strength and my hero. I still don’t know anyone stronger than she was. Despite her physical absence, I continue to learn from my mother. In times of struggle, and trust that there are many, I think silently of my mama and of her wise witty words that always made her baby girl smile.


 

Honorable Mention: Essa Alshammari, Saudi Arabia,
The Story of Persistence

What is Saudi Arabia to you? If I were to listen to the stories told of my country in the West, I would insist that my country is one where the majority of the population holds immense wealth from our oil reserves and where every woman is oppressed. While I have seen sheiks and elites treat money as something that grows on trees and women indeed suffering from oppression, this is only one story among many. Like Chimamanda Adichie explained so brilliantly in her TED talk, to present one story as the only story is beyond problematic; “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” I, Essa Alshammari, want to share my unique story to a world that continues to misrepresent who I am and where I come from.

I first thought about studying in the US when I was a high school student in 2006, but I knew my circumstances only allowed for it to exist in my mind and imagination. My family is among many families in my country that are not rich from oil money, and everything I planned for my future had to include them and my support of them. Therefore, as my family struggled financially, I could not continue pursuing studies in my field of preference at university level; instead, I enrolled in a practical program that gave me the benefit of learning how to master a work-related skill and receiving a salary by the end of the month. After two years of working nine hours six days a week at General Motors, I received a diploma, and once I had completed the program and graduated, I started searching for new jobs and fields, working for several different companies, which ultimately led me to Zain, a leading mobile and data services operator. In 2012, I was named the best employee in the country, and right before I decided to leave to the US, I was promoted to team leader and would have earned a salary many dream of.  For eight years, I had kept working to support my family and had little opportunity to save money, which further forced me to limit myself to the choices I had as a worker. However, my aspirations to study outweighed the money I could make, and the same year I was promoted, I took not only loans but a huge risk and went to study in the US.

When the plane took off and I landed in New York, I could not believe that I had reached my goal. Everything was new to me. I had arrived on Christmas Day, and not only did I get a cultural shock but communication was incredibly difficult at that point as I spoke very limited English. Time passed fast, and it was January, and I was to begin studying English at ALI, American Language Institute, in connection to SDSU. While I excelled in my studies, I lived in fear, as I had resources to cover for no more than three months of living and studying in San Diego. During the last week of the semester when my bank statement showed an account balance close to zero, I was finally awarded the government scholarship that students from Saudi Arabia can be granted to study abroad on the condition that they have an outstanding academic history. It was such a relief to me, and I could continue studying English without waking up with a burden on my shoulders every morning. In 2014, I completed and satisfied the language requirements, including the TOEFL waiver class, for university level studies, and soon began my journey at SDSU.

On the surface, I had everything figured out, and knew what I was doing, but my first semester at SDSU proved to be very challenging. I struggled to understand the content of my classes, either from lectures or the articles I was assigned to read. At the same time, the bank in Saudi Arabia that had given me a loan to manage my first three months in the US started calling me forcefully to ensure my repayment, but neither did my scholarship cover the amount I had loaned, which grew larger due to rising interest rates, nor was I in Saudi Arabia to deal with the matter. Consequently, with a stress level higher than ever before, I stopped going to class and almost gave up, until my professor, Dr. Greb, in the subject that later became my major, ISCOR, gave me encouragement to achieve my goals. Fortunately, in the end of the semester, my brother was able to convince the bank that repayment would occur as soon as I was legally allowed to work, which I was not on an F-1 visa. Despite the fact that my GPA had already suffered from my actions and the obstacles I had faced, as I was put on academic probation, I was able to improve my grades step by step, starting from a 0.8 GPA to 2.4 GPA today, with the goal to raise it every semester until I graduate from SDSU. On the one hand, I am so proud of myself for improving, but on the other hand, I know that I had no other option than to do so, because if I did not increase my GPA within two semester, I would have lost my scholarship and the chances of staying in the US.

Being an international student is not easy. It requires a certain person to commit to becoming an independent, responsible individual, to have the strength and motivation to deal with language barriers and daily misunderstandings, and to live far away from everyone and everything that has been so close to one’s heart for so long – for me, 25 years. Also, not all of us have parents who can give us $35,000 per year to go to school here. Many of us feel alone in our struggles, as our American friends and classmates cannot always put themselves in our shoes. Simultaneously, as a student from Saudi Arabia, I have to deal with stereotypes towards the Middle East and my religion, Islam, but I can only wish that more people try to see and appreciate our similarities more than differences, and that even if there are differences among us, they should not stop us from loving one another. When I meet Christian Americans here in San Diego, I am always happy to discuss how Jesus plays an important role in my religion too. In fact, my name in Arabic means Jesus, and I would say that I have received this name due to my mother’s interest in instilling in me the qualities of this very honorable man. As I continue my journey, studying and learning life lessons, I carry myself with gratefulness for the opportunity that has been given to me, knowing that there are many individuals who would go out of their way to lead the life I am currently living. I look to them, and I recognize that there is one story, the story of obstacles, loss and challenges, that limit them in their lives, yet I know that they, alike myself, have many stories to share, and to honor them as well as my family, culture and country, I share with you my story, a story of persistence.

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