Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ugandan student, others ready to start a new life in U.S.

From the Parkville Luminary

About 8,000 miles from Parkville, Missouri USA, a teenager, Doreen, is counting not only the days but the minutes until she arrives here to start a new life. Doreen is one of over one hundred new international students who will be descending on Park University during the first week of August.

Doreen’s story, like those of each of Park’s international students, is remarkable.

The tale begins in 2009 in Kampala, Uganda, when I first met Doreen’s father, a warm, soft-spoken, humble man name Emmanuel. I felt a connection to Emmanuel almost instantly. When I left Uganda at the end of that summer, we stayed in touch. I trusted him so much I asked him to help me buy a car in Uganda in 2010. Now, let's just say this car wasn't exactly perfect, though this wasn't Emmanuel's fault. In fact, this vehicle left us stranded all over Uganda, including inside a national park at dusk. Had we set out on foot after being stranded, we would have been eaten by lions. This is not an exaggeration—my wife heard their hungry roars.

I was never angry at Emmanuel, only the thief who sold us the car, and Emmanuel and I remained friends despite it all. We continued to correspond after I returned to the states, soon to discover that his daughter Doreen was looking for an American university to attend. I told Doreen and Emmanuel that I might be able to come up with a suggestion.

Doreen, Emmanuel, and our mutual friend Lisa (who had generously agreed to pay for Doreen’s schooling in the U.S.) had already begun searching for an American university for a few months before I entered the discussion. They were seriously considering St. Snottyrichgirl University, one of those blue-blood east coast $30-40,000 a year universities where, frankly, Doreen would have been a fish out of water. Also, Lisa would have been broke.

Of course, I suggested Park University, where international students are not only welcomed, but feel at home. This is thanks to our diversity (students from about 100 countries) and thanks to the wonderful, helpful people at Park’s international student services office. As the one paying the bills, Lisa was pleasantly surprised at the modest cost of attending Park. In fact, U.S. Department of Education rankings list Park as having the second second-lowest net price of any private, not-for-profit college/university in the United States.

So, Doreen began the application process to Park, guided by the cheerful, indefatigable Kimberly Connelly, assistant director of International Student Services. The process is lengthy and complicated, but thanks to Kimberly and her colleagues, not insurmountable. Now, I did meet with Doreen and Emmanuel several times in June in Kampala to answer some basic questions. However, the most important guidance came from Kimberly, who patiently and competently answered 1,867 emails from Doreen, Emmanuel, Lisa, and myself. Not only is Doreen all set to go, Kimberly was even able to find her a small scholarship, and will help her seek work study funding in future semesters.

What’s remarkable is that Doreen will be just one of 120-150 new international students this year at Park. I’ve done the math, and based on the services she rendered to Doreen, Kimberly works 28 hours a day, 9 days a week, helping these young people navigate the federal and university bureaucracies. (Note: I am not a math teacher).

I wrote Kimberly recently thanking her for assisting Doreen, and she responded by saying that helping these young people realize their dreams gives her life meaning. My only regret is that Kimberly, while she does get to know the international students quite well, only sees one side of the life-changing impact she’s making. I wish she could see the pride and unbridled joy on Emmanuel’s face, or on the faces of the other parents of international students I know in Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and elsewhere. Kimberly, all I can do is pass along everyone’s warmest, heart-felt thanks.

It’s dedicated, compassionate colleagues like Kimberly that make me proud to call Park University home. In a few weeks, I’m sure Doreen will agree.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn --

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