Many people are impressed when they find out I completed my PhD. They admire the work and dedication that went into completing my terminal degree. I had many obstacles to complete my education including kidney stones, changing my committee four times, and dealing with the politics of academia. However, my challenges were nothing compared to some of the international students that I met while completing my doctorate. I would like to share three of their inspiring stories, though I am omitting names to protect privacy.
First, one man from a small African nation lived more than 1000 miles from his wife and more than 1500 miles from his children. In addition, most his extended family still lived in Africa. But his challenges did not end there. He did not have a car and lived with a number of undergraduate students who partied too much and even placed him in danger. He spent most of his time in the office and even slept there during nights when the weather was too bad to bike home. In addition, he had students who refused to take the extra time and effort to listen closely to him and joked about his accent. Yet, through all of this, he always had a smile on his face and never spoke negatively of anyone else. He was an inspiration to me and no matter how much I struggled, he was always there with a kind, positive word.
I also met a young woman from a Middle Eastern nation who had once been the department head at a university in her home nation. However, when her nation’s government changed, she was ousted from her position and no university in that country would recognize her degree or experience. Rather than giving up, she came to the United States to pursue her PhD so that she could teach in the US. Her hope is to one day return to her home nation to teach, but she understands that this may not be an option. I often spoke with her during class; she was remarkably intelligent, insightful, and optimistic. However, due to her manner of dress, many people avoided her and missed a chance to get to know a wonderful person. I will always admire her dedication to education and her perseverance in the face of great hardship.
Finally, I also had the pleasure of working with a faculty member who was originally from South Korea. As I was struggling to complete my dissertation and dealing with the politics of the process, he was always willing to lend an ear. He provided me guidance and encouragement when I was upset and discouraged. He even shared his experiences with me. When he was completing his PhD, his wife became pregnant. While this should have been a joyous time, his chairperson compelled him to send his wife and newborn daughter back to South Korea so that they would not be a distraction as he worked on his dissertation. His story astonished me. However, it helped me get through some very difficult times. I will forever be in his debt for providing perspective as I struggled.
These are only three stories of those who came from other nations, but I met many others that overcame great obstacles to accomplish their dreams. I often hear Americans complaining about immigrants and international students coming to the US. However, I have learned that most of these people are not much different than you or me. They may have different beliefs, clothing, and customs, but deep down the similarities outweigh the differences. My international peers go to school to improve their income and make a better life for their children. They have insecurities, fears, and dreams and want to be able to go through life with happiness, to love, and be loved. I learned a lot about curriculum and instruction while in school, which will help me to land a job. However, the lessons learned from international students and faculty may be the greatest gift of my education and I will cherish the friendships that I made for a lifetime.
I recently completed my PhD in Education (Curriculum and Instruction) at the University of Wyoming. I have published multiple articles in peer reviewed journals and have a book chapter coming early next year. I aim to explore issues of privilege and equity of education, especially as they pertain to STEM education.