Attending College as an International Student

Roulan Ayman Abunahla / Stillman College »

Coming from a war-zone country to study in the United States is a dream that many people in my country can’t even comprehend envisioning. The road to this dream was long and full of limitations along the way due to many different factors that have to do with my gender, nationality, and educational level. I started putting down the roadblocks to get here when I was fourteen years old. From there, I worked hard, looked for scholarships, and applied to programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Every program that I joined has helped improve a certain aspect of either my personality or my knowledge.

My First Visit to the United States

At 14, I joined the English Access Microscholarship Program which improved my English language skills and educated me on the history of the United States and the diverse culture that it holds. This program made me only more eager to visit the United States, which happened two years later when I was granted aid from the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program! At that time, I got to visit the United States for the first time, living with a host family for ten months in Medford, Oregon, to study as a junior in high school.

My experience was enlightening and increased my potential to grow. There were many bumps in the road, but I love challenges and was only more driven to get to the U.S.

It was amazing to live with a host family. Even though they didn’t know me, they were willing to host me for ten whole months! These ten months were enlightening, eye opening, and rich in culture. I have literally traveled to the other half of the world, which by now you can imagine is crazy on its own.

Craving More for College

The journey I took made me want to go back to the United States to explore more, because my experience and the culture I got to know can be described as the small amounts of exposure that a fish has in the sea. When I came to Stillman College on a scholarship as an international student and the only one from my region, I honestly had no idea that I was admitted to an HBCU. In fact, I didn’t even know what HBCU stands for! Applying to Stillman College was a last-minute decision that I made as I applied to various colleges and universities around the United States.

Here again the United States didn’t fail to encourage me to learn more. I did my research on Historically Black Colleges and Universities after I got accepted and added a rich depth to my knowledge. Even after my research, I was still feeling lost, as I believe that it’s hard to learn history without properly living it; the present matters too!

I had to make the decision of either accepting or rejecting the offer, knowing for a fact that, in the next four years, I might not get to see my family until I am done with university due to home being a war zone. But, as I said before, I love challenges, and I believe the United States is a place that will enrich both my professional career and my personality. My dreams of earning a high-level education, enriching my knowledge on cultures, growing personally, and meeting more people to increase my network were the goals that led me to be here.

Just like every experience in life, I kept telling myself that nothing comes easy and I had to trust and test the process. I faced some challenges, and I had to adapt to various changes, but my support system made the process smoother. My friends at Stillman College and my professors were so welcoming and ready to support me with whatever I needed as much as they could to help me adapt.

Stillman College: A Home on the Other Side of the World

Stillman College became my home away from home, literally, since I don’t get to go back to see my family during holidays or whenever else I want to. My experience at Stillman College was not easy, especially during the past year. COVID-19 and the quarantine brought on especially hard times, as it was difficult to live on my own without my family, and online college didn’t help in building a bigger network on campus. I have also lost my dad this year and was not able to see him for three years or attend the funeral. This on its own was the biggest hardship that I had and am still going through. Through this, however, Stillman made me feel as a part of a big family where there are people who care for me and help me feel loved and cared for.

Professors are always ready to help and meet outside of class time if needed, and such attention is critical in building the community for students.

My experience at my school is a unique one, and there is no doubt about that. When I first arrived at Stillman College, many students were surprised to see someone who has traveled 6,580 miles from the other side of the world to attend a small HBCU. A big number of students usually come to an HBCU thinking that they would most likely only find people coming from the same background, and for sure not a foreigner who some don’t even know where her country is.

Everyone was curious to know why I chose Stillman College and what I am doing here, which has helped making friends easier than I thought and for sure made me seem cooler to many!

Unique and Fulfilling

My experience as an international student at Stillman College has opened my eyes to the possibility of having different cultures and backgrounds that can exist not only within one country, but also within one entity, as my experience as an exchange student in Oregon is a completely different one than my experience as a college student in Alabama.

We are all small fishes in the ocean, and each of us has different stories that were shaped by the different events and processes we have been through. Each culture is rich with its own unique history and story to tell, and it only broadens others’ perspective on life. This led me to accept and appreciate differences even more, because I believe that communities are built on the differences that shape individuals. And Stillman College was the living proof of this! The community is built from different backgrounds and ethnicities who want to create, improve, and succeed in life while helping others to be a better version of themselves.

Stillman College has opened so many doors of opportunities for me that I don’t think I would have been able to get if I was in a different college or university. There are always new scholarships, workshops, and internship opportunities sent my way to participate in and apply for. At Stillman College, there is a chance for everyone to get to wherever they want to. The biggest accomplishment that I have recently achieved at Stillman College was to be recognized as one of the 86 selected 2021-2022 White House HBCU scholars after being nominated by my college president and dean of my department.

At Stillman College, I learned what it means to be different while at the same time being at home, how to accept and appreciate others’ differences, and how to apply these differences in creative ways to make a difference in this world. I can say that Stillman College has really prepared me for a different world, reminding me that I am a unique individual and making me feel that every Stillmanite matters. Wherever I am and wherever I go, Stillman will always be there for me.