From Berbera to Berea College in the US : A Road Less Travelled

By:Mostaphe Abdikadir Mohamud
Born and bred in Somaliland, I recently moved to the United States to embark upon my college career at a highly selective liberal arts college, a move I never would have made had I not dreamed big and came up with the courage to take risks few years back.
Not that long ago, I had a dream. I had the dream of one day pursuing a higher education—one that is both challenging and fulfilling—at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and preferably the US! Now, you might think that I sound too crazy for a typical Somali kid from a low-income family who grew up in one of the most underserved and underprivileged regions on the face of earth, and believe me, my friends and family thought so too when I first brought this up, not that they did not believe I had what it takes to get the work done, but because they just never heard someone talk about the possibility of going to the US for college. And I do not blame them at all. In fact, I acknowledge their thought, because I myself did not have the slightest clue of how to bring this premature idea to life. I did not have the resources nor the guidance many of the kids around the world who go through this process have in place. Nonetheless, I was equipped with some of the vital attributes one needs to possess if he/she is to navigate through such a daunting process. Traits that no college counselor or advisor could have ever instilled in me: Faith, curiosity, commitment, and resilience.
To help you understand where all of this began, allow me to walk you back to 2018!
The summer after I graduated from high school, I did not know where I was headed. I was on the same boat as everyone else I graduated with. Until an opportunity to study at a two-year military academy in Ethiopia presented itself. I took a test and boom: I was selected!! Though my friends and family thought I was out of my mind (again,) for taking down this road and going to a military academy, I could not say no to the chance to study at a foreign country on a fully-funded program for several reasons. One, by going down this road, as the second oldest kid in a family of 14, I would safe my father the trouble of having to worry about funding my higher education. Two, I would get to learn about a different culture and get a sense of what it is like to study at a foreign soil. And lastly and most importantly, I would have more time to work on whatever step I would take next. I did well in the academy and ended up being at the top of my class—and made my country proud, I guess!
While I was still in the academy, a senior friend from my high school, SOS Sheikh Secondary School, got into a high caliber and well-respected school in the US and that is when I began learning more about the US college application system. I would be dishonest to myself and to you if I said I knew what I was doing when I started researching, but again, I had this drive that I would always find myself spending every single moment I got juggling through college websites and emailing college admission officers. Within the first few days of my research, I learned that colleges in the US are beyond-my-imagination expensive, and it was instantly clear that I was not going to college without a full-ride scholarship! Fortunately, there were and still are many colleges that offer good financial aid packages (scholarships), but to only promising students from low-income backgrounds. I was clearly from a low-income household in the American standards, but was not so sure if I was promising enough and worth the investment of a $70,000 a year. I decided to give it my best shot anyway convincing myself that my chances of getting in was little to none.
Fast forward to March 2021, after almost two years of endless research, late night shifts of drafting and perfecting my essays, and hundreds of emails to strangers asking to spare five minutes to review them, I finally received the news that I was accepted to several colleges across America, and among them was my dream school, Berea College in Kentucky. And I almost forgot: With a full-ride scholarship of course.
As pleasant and satisfying as this news sounded, I still had one more obstacle to overcome. To be honest, at that point, I was naïve enough to think that the only thing I had left was figuring out a way to put myself on a plane to Kentucky, but that really was not the case. I forgot that people from where I am, did not have a particularly good reputation among the world countries! Aside from the costs involved in applying for a visa, I had to travel to neighboring Djibouti to get my visa, which itself was not an easy ride. And yet, despite all that, my visa application was denied and my plans were delayed.
During those unprecedented times, where most people who were put in the same situation would have lost faith and give up, I did not. I have come a long way and there was no going back, because if I did, it would mean that I failed both myself and the countless people who believed in me. I was lucky enough to have had relatives in Djibouti, decided to not go back home yet and stayed there until it is time for my next appointment. I somehow secured an internship at a company and survived that summer. Finally, on October 4th 2021, I went in for my interview well prepared, ready to convince that visa officer to the best of my ability, hoping that I will this time get my visa approved, and luckily, it did. My visa was I approved, and I was finally going to pursue the education that I for long desired!
While I feel extremely fortunate and blessed to have gotten this life-time opportunity—of course with the constant, unconditional support I received from my family, high school teachers, friends, and dozen other strangers (who now turned to be some of my closest people,) and somehow believed in a kid with a bunch of crazy dreams – I would be remiss if I have not shared my story with the world and shed that little light to some dreamers after me. I provide my story in hopes that anyone who reads it will find encouragement and hope to continue working on in whatever they are, especially my fellow Somali students whose talent and hard work I am aware of. And do not get me wrong. I am no prodigy and this article is by no means an indication of success. I did nothing special. I am just your typical Somali kid who was brave enough to dream big and put in the effort. If I could do it, then chances are that you probably can too. And an old adage goes, “with diligence and hard work, no feet is too big to pull.”
Short Bio About the Author
My name is Mostaphe Abdikadir Mohamud. I was born in the coastal city of Berbera in late 2000s and my family moved to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, when I was two years old. When I turned five, I was enrolled at a nearby Quranic School and then matriculated at a local public school the following year. I took both my elementary and primary school in Hargeisa and then moved to a small town approximately 70km east of Berbera called Sheikh to attend the oldest and most prestigious boarding school in Somaliland called, SOS Sheikh Secondary School, now called Pharo Secondary School. After high school, I went on to attend a two-year academy in Ethiopia. While I was in Ethiopia, I saved the stipend from my scholarship to take the American Standardized Tests, the SAT and the TOEFL, that are necessary to apply to colleges in the US. I did well on both and was recently accepted into several highly selective liberal arts colleges across America with full-ride scholarships, and ended up choosing the distinctive Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. I intend to doable major in Computer Science and Economics during my four years of stay here at Berea.
Info About Berea College
Berea college is a private, highly selective, liberal arts college in Berea, KY, United States. It was the first interracial and coeducational college in the south of the United States. It is home to 1600 students who learn, live and work together. Every year, Berea College adds its student body to 30 new international students from around the world, out of the 3000 applicants, making its acceptance rate for international students sometimes less than one percent, more selective than schools like Harvard and Stanford in that matter. This year, Mostaphe was the one of only two students from Africa and the only one from East Africa who were selected by the International Admissions Committee of the school to join the Class of 2025.