But has education prepared her for life in the U.S.?
Despite lacking previous education as well as cultural and language difficulties, many East African immigrant students between 17 and 23 years of age who arrived in the United States after being granted refugee resettlement status are graduated from Twin Cities-area high schools in just two to three years. However, the question of whether these students gained the same knowledge as American students in high schools and if they have the academic confidence to pursue higher education remains unanswered.
Roda Isse, an immigrant and a senior at Edison High School in Minneapolis, is expecting to receive her diploma on June 9 after just two and half years of high school. She was born in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in 1982. She has five brothers and a sister. Civil war and clan fighting in Somalia drove Rodaís family to search for shelter and survival. The family fled to the neighboring country of Kenya, where they lived in a refugee camp for a short period of time. "It was difficult to stay, as thousands of Somali refugees were pouring into the country and we kept ourselves hiding in the camp," Roda said.
Like many other refugees, they were not permitted to travel outside the camp, as they did not have residential permits. Feeling like prisoners, the family fled the Kenyan refuge camp for Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where they remained in a refugee camp until they immigrated to the U.S. in 1999.
In 1994, during the familyís stay in the Ugandan refugee camp, Rodaís father was hospitalized for hepatitis B and later passed away. "We had gone through a great pain," Roda said.
Roda and her remaining familyís first home in the U.S. was Phoenix, Arizona. The young Somali girl could not believe that she had arrived in the fabled "land of opportunity." "My dream is coming true; all what I wanted is a peaceful place and education and now I am in the right place," said Roda. Immediately after her arrival in the U.S., she was taken to a local high schoolís administration office by a representative from the agency that sponsored her family. In an interview with the schoolís administrators, she was asked her age and background information. "I could not get the admission [to high school] because of my age, 18 years," she recalled.
"I came back to my family with disappointment." Roda continued. "I told my mama the whole story. She too was disappointed. We moved to Seattle. The same thing happened. Then, I contacted my cousin who was living with her husband in Saint Paul. She has been in States for about 13 years now. The good news she told me: in Minnesota at my age, I can get admission in high school. I knew in this country that without knowing [the] English language and having some education, it is very tough to live."
Roda left the rest of her family in Seattle and moved in with her relative in St. Paul, where she was admitted to Roseville Area High School in July 2000. Though she was placed in the 10th grade, Roda didnít know a single sentence of English. The school did not have an English Language Learners (ELL) program, and she had to take regular English classes with American students. And Roda had never gone to school before in her life.
"In my first day, I could not believe I was the only Black student in the school," Roda recalled. "And I had no clue what my teachers were explaining to me. My classmates were looking at me surprisingly because of my traditional dress. All I had to do was to attend the classes I [was] registered [in].
"After my classes I came back home with worrying a lot. I said to my cousin that I donít want to go to school anymore. She encouraged me a lot, taking herself as an example. My brother-in-law started helping me a lot. I had to stay after school and then come home with little hope that one day I will be able to read, write and speak the English language.
"After my first quarter, my cousin moved away from the state. I found another relative. I moved to her place in Minneapolis. I transferred to Edison High School where I am now."
Besides her educational issues, the Somali immigrantís challenges are many. The relative Roda currently lives with is moving away, leaving her to struggle to find a place to live. She has no rental history and has never had a job.
Roda has applied for admission to Mankato State University and dreams of becoming a pediatrician, but she is not sure if the knowledge she gained in the short period of education she has had will enable her to pursue higher education and be competitive with American students at universities.
However, after almost three years in the U.S. and just two and half years in school without any previous formal education, today Roda, like many other immigrant students, canít wait to wear her high school graduation gown and get the diploma she deserves.
Said Sheik-Abdi welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.