For the last three years of my college experience, every day looked the same. No big plans, so no big changes. I took 15 credit hours and worked about 30 hours weekly; sometimes multiple jobs to pay the bills. Despite my interest in student organizations, lack of time made it impossible for me to partake. I would register for a club at the beginning of the semester and that would be our only interaction, since their meetings never fit my schedule. Weekends were spent on the fourth floor of Wells Library trying to finish next week’s homework.
Like many first-generation immigrant students, I struggled transitioning into college life. Arriving in a new country knowing no English forced me to be antisocial. My only friends faced my same struggles—adapting to a new culture they knew little of, but expected a lot from. Over time, the language barrier faded, but the cultural barrier remained. Lack of time to accept social invitations led to further isolation.
I thought submitting assignments on time and maintaining my grades were the most important things about college, and I sacrificed everything to make that happen. After struggling for so long, it appeared that all the doors to a fun college experience had been shut. I tried to do everything right, but I was missing something.
This was the case, until the day I decided to apply to the Washington Leadership Program (WLP), a semester-long program that allows some of the most talented IU students to live, work, and study in Washington, D.C. I applied knowing there’d be little chance of getting in. To my surprise, I was called for an interview. At the end of the interview, they asked me if I had any questions. I had so many! But, I chose the most pressing one: how can I afford this trip? I wouldn’t be able to afford the first month’s rent, let alone the other expenses of living in the city for a semester. The head of the program leaned forward enthusiastically and responded, “We are proud of your hard work and we will not let financial hardship hold you back.” Opportunity doesn’t always come knocking; sometimes, you must knock and see if anyone answers.
Thanks to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and its generous donors, I moved to D.C. in August for an internship at the U.S. Department of Treasury. For the first time since I started college, I didn’t have to worry about paying rent.
I lived and studied with like-minded, self-motivated college students, some of whom became my close friends. I realized how little I knew. And, for the first time, I could socialize, attend networking events, and celebrate my birthday with friends.
Through WLP, I realized that there is so much more to college than being a dedicated student. I faced many uncertainties and challenges, but those obstacles were my vehicle to a brighter future. Now, I have realized the importance of knocking on doors and seeking opportunities. I know more people and I have learned to be more open and vulnerable with my life. So, my advice is to network, spend time on self-improvement, and allow yourself to experience that part of college that I almost missed.
Mohamed Osman Mohamed Class of ‘17