The stress and fear associated with the choice of college is something that plagues almost every student.
Joel Odoom’s decision was more nerve-wracking than most as an international student in Minnesota.
Odoom was born in Ghana, Africa, and moved to Qatar in 2010 where his family still lives.
He had to adapt to a new environment and a new language, English, which he uses as his dominant language.
Leaving Ghana, his home country, proved difficult as his move would be permanent.
“Moving to Qatar was a real shocker for me,” Odoom said. “Leaving a place where I was comfortable with people with the same cultural background to going to a foreign place for me was very hard.”
Stepping outside of his comfort zone tested Odoom. He said it helped him experience life in a new way.
“It was a new opportunity and it helped me very, very much,” Odoom said.
Past obstacles moving to a “foreign” place early in life served as a factor in his decision to come to the US for college.
“I thought to myself, where’s the best place I would feel comfortable with?” Odoom said. “I thought the U.S. It seemed like the land of opportunities.”
He highlighted a few opportunities such as experiencing what the US will be like outside of what he sees in movies and television.
Odoom said he wanted to stay near his aunt and uncle and his extended family who live in the twin cities and have a safety net if things don’t turn out the way he envisions them.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t have family in Minnesota. My parents didn’t want me to struggle.” Odoom said.
Why Winona State University?
Odoom said that he wanted to find a college that was affordable, dense with diversity and international students to make him feel more accepted and supported in the path he wanted to take in school.
Odoom said he didn’t want to feel like an outcast.
He wanted to become his own person, branch out and discover new things.
“I told myself, let me find the friends who I truly believe are my friends. It doesn’t matter if they’re from the same country as me or if they’re international or not.” Odoom said. “I’ll just do whatever to make myself feel comfortable.”
After being at Winona State for two years, Odoom’s perspective and expectations changed for the better.
He explained that he gets along with everyone.
People don’t see him as an international student, and he doesn’t feel as if he is confined to a clique.
“I feel as if I am an anomaly,” Odoom said.
Odoom hinted at the reason may be because he doesn’t have a “stereotypical” accent that other international students have.
“I feel as if they would treat me differently if that was the case.”
As Winona State University’s spring commencement nears, graduating students are faced with the reality that they will be on their own. This thought is scary for most graduates, and for those who have traveled from other countries to pursue their degree as Warriors, it can be even scarier as they leave their four-year home.
According to WSU’s Director of International Services and Cultural Outreach Kemale Pinar, 300 international students attend Winona State representing 45 countries. Of these students, 39 are graduating this semester. Insight into four of these students’ backgrounds, Winona State involvement and post graduation plans, illustrates the process international students might endure as they remain thousands of miles from home following their time at college.
Busy streets, hectic sidewalks and tall buildings was not the big city vibe Takiul Alam was looking for when exploring college options outside of his home country of Bangladesh. After living in the capital of Dhaka with a population of more than 18 million, he wanted the opposite.
According to Alam, he found what he was looking for in the city of Winona – beautiful surroundings, a much smaller population and snow.
Still, none of these features were a true selling point for Alam. For him, it was about the scholarships.
Although he was leaning towards attending college in the U.K., Alam made the decision to attend Winona State after receiving scholarships that covered 75 percent of his tuition. Now, after three and a half years of study, he will graduate with a degree in computer science.
Alam claimed he never felt homesick after leaving Dhaka, and the biggest thing he had to adjust to was the difference in food.
“The food is pretty bland,” Alam said. “Back home, we use a lot of spices to cook, so that was the biggest obstacle.”
For his first two years at Winona State, Alam served as president of the International Club. This gave him the opportunity to share his culture’s food in the annual International Dinner as well as enjoy dishes from other countries.
Alam’s lack of homesickness will benefit him after graduation, as he has no intention of leaving the U.S.
In March 2016, Alam enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. He said his basic training date keeps getting postponed, but he hopes to begin training by the end of this year.
Money once again played a large factor in one of Alam’s life decisions, as he enlisted to receive money towards tuition as well as citizenship after passing basic training.
Since his enlistment, Alam said he is unsure what will come next for him after he graduates, but he does know he would like to live in Minnesota.
“My plans are up in the air until I know when I go to basic training,” Alam explained.
With his mom and two sisters supporting his decisions from back home, Alam said he will continue to enjoy the Minnesota snow and wait for the next phase of his life to unfold.
A software developer position at Pearson VUE in Bloomington, Minnesota awaits Rachel OuYong after graduation. Instead of feeling first-day jitters when she arrives, OuYong will see familiar faces when walking into the corporate headquarters.
OuYong is a WSU computer science major and math minor from Hong Kong. She said she came to Winona State after she traveled to Minneapolis to visit her aunt, who is a WSU alumna. After then journeying to Winona and receiving a tour of campus, OuYong said she wanted to attend.
“The town is very different from where I grew up,” OuYong said. “As a city, Hong Kong is like New York. I wanted a big change and decided Winona was a good place to be.”
Throughout her four years at Winona State, OuYong has been involved on campus through the International Club, as a worker at WSU’s Tech Support Center and as a student researcher for the Computer Science Department.
During her junior year, OuYong attended a job fair in the Twin Cities through Career Services. This visit resulted in a summer internship for OuYong at Pearson VUE, and six months after her time in Bloomington she was offered a full-time position beginning after graduation.
While landing an internship and accepting a job offer is high on OuYong’s list of greatest accomplishments, she said attending the Grace Hopper Celebration twice ranks first.
“That conference is the world’s largest for women in computing,” OuYong said. “That was probably the highlight of my four years of college.”
OuYong’s undergraduate research with her advisor led her to present the project “Predicting Lung Cancer Outcomes” at the conference. This project carries over into her senior capstone, as she focuses on Data Storage Of Lung Cancer Treatment Outcomes Predicting Tool in collaboration with Mayo Clinic. Her research poster is on display in Watkins Hall on Winona State’s campus.
Wasil Chisti’s journey to Winona State includes a series of missed deadlines.
Chisti said his father encouraged him to leave home in Dhaka, Bangladesh to “get a better education from a better country.” He looked to attend school in Canada, where a few of his family members and friends live. After missing the application deadline by a few days, he said his mother suggested he “try the country next door.”
In 2012, Chisti attended a college in Missouri to study engineering and two years later decided to transfer to Mankato State University.
“I just couldn’t see myself graduating from there,” Chisti said.
He had plans to apply to Mankato State, but missed the deadline. Chisti changed his major to business administration and attended Rochester Community and Technical College for one year before transferring to Winona State and changing his major to human resources. He said he changed his major after realizing how much he had worked in customer relations since the start of high school.
At RCTC, Chisti said he took a class because he thought it was transferrable to Winona State, but he learned too late this was not the case. This forced him to stay another year at Winona State to earn his degree.
“It worked out,” Chisti said. “Whatever happened, it happened for the best.”
At Winona State he was hired for a paid internship with the College of Business startup, which he also receives credit for. Chisti has served as human resource manager for the group since last October, which involves recruiting, screening and interviewing students on campus for jobs.
Chisti said after graduating he looks to secure a job, and it does not have to be “the most attractive.”
“I can go into a job five days a week and not be the happiest person there,” Chisti said. “But the paycheck can make me happy.”
Christian Kolby from Oslo, Norway said he would have never considered himself a leader three years ago.
“Today, I am the most respected College of Business leaders,” Kolby said.
He said Winona State’s College of Business offers a lot of opportunities for students to expand their skills, which is what he did and will continue to do.
Kolby, an economic and political science major and global studies minor, said he served as a “normal” college student his first two years at Winona State, as he earned good grades but was not involved on campus. His junior year he joined the Economics Club and was pitched as VP of finance, allowing him to work alongside administrators for the College of Business and gain experience.
“The dean will ask me if he needs people, so that’s rewarding,” Kolby said.
After a liking for the Minnesota Vikings led Kolby to search for Midwest colleges that fit his budget, he considered Winona State as an option.
He said, “I applied, got accepted and never really looked back, and it worked out.”
Kolby explained how a scholarship program for international students allowed him to pay in-state tuition, saving him thousands of dollars per semester. He said this, combined with Winona’s small-town feel, moved him to choose Winona State over other colleges that accepted him, such as the University of Minnesota.
Using his club involvement with the College of Business to build his resumé, Kolby is interviewing with companies including WinCraft and Fastenal, as the semester concludes. His ultimate goal is to permanently live in the U.S., staying in Minnesota for now.
“If opportunities arise elsewhere, I’ll pack up my bag and go,” Kolby said. “But, Winona will always be my second home.”