Refugees Face Unique Challenges as College Students


Among them was Kodgo, now a 24-year-old graphic design major at Montgomery College in Baltimore, who arrived in July 2010. He left Togo, in West Africa, to seek asylum status through his father, already living in America. Due to the sensitivity of the subject and the safety of his family remaining in Togo, Kodgo asked that his last name not be used and could not be as open with his story as Bidar.

But he did address the stereotypes he faces, in a phone interview with

"I have shocked people when I tell them I am studying [graphic] art in college," said Kodgo, who speaks proudly although he is still clearly learning English.

He said he believes that people are surprised by his career choice because "there are certain images of Africans that people have in their mind, and being in a proper educational setting, learning graphic design is not one of them." The images are of "Africans making clicking noises when they speak" or "not wearing real clothing."

Stereotypes Plague Refugee Students

Kodgo feels that the stereotypes that plague Africans will not ruin his American college experience. "Yes, having to deal with stereotypes is something that I will have to overcome, but I feel that if I continue keeping my positive spirit and attitude, negative words will not bother me."

"I am still learning the language, so trying to understand my peers and professors can be hard; but they work with me to make my learning experience better and each day my English learning experience gets better," he added.

"As of right now, I do not have any plans to return home," he said. "However, when I graduate and begin working I plan to have enough money to go back home and help my family and friends who are in need."

For students like Bidar and Kodgo, adjusting to college life can be difficult when their needs are different from their peers.

"Many refugee and asylee students come from countries where war and civil strife have dominated their lives," said Robert Warwick, executive director of the International Rescue Committee. "Often they and their families have had to flee their homes. They have lost their homes, belongings and in many cases, loved ones, including parents, grandparents and siblings. Often they have witnessed atrocities and can be deeply traumatized.

"Given a choice, almost all asylees and refugees would want to go home," he continued. "But this is not possible due to war and the destruction of social and economic systems in their homes."

However, both students want their American peers to know that, like them, they are your average college student.

"After reading this story, I want people to know that I'm a nice person who enjoys talking to my friends, drawing, and enjoying my time in school," said Kodgo.

"I don't want people to feel sorry for me when they read this story," said Bidar. "I'm just like every other college student; I work, I have fun, and I'm involved in on-campus extracurricular activities. The only thing I want people to take from this story is that you can do anything you set your mind to; you can make the most out of any situation and make anything possible." contributor Aja Johnson is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Washington, D.C.

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