Our Voices

Modou Jaw

Breaking Out of his Shell to Discuss Global Issues

MCTC Mathematics student Modou Jaw has made the most of his four years in the United States.

The Gambian-born student delivered a speech this fall at the Association of American Colleges and Universities Global Learning Conference in Minneapolis. In his speech, he explored the international student experience, and the struggles he and his peers face every day.

“Most people think international students come from wealthy families,” he said. “That’s not always true.”

Modou had been determined to attend college in the U.S. ever since he studied American politics during the 2008 presidential election.

He was drawn to Minnesota in particular, and relocated here in 2009. International students, however, are not eligible for federal financial aid. His first year in the U.S., Modou worked full-time and lived with a sponsor family while saving for his education. The cost of international student tuition was daunting, and kept Modou from pursuing a four-year school.

In 2012, a friend invited Modou to visit MCTC. He was instantly drawn to the College’s culture and atmosphere, and knew he wanted to make it his new home.

In his first semester at MCTC, Modou often sat at the back of his classes and kept to himself. American college culture felt radically different, and was afraid of others judging him.

“When you come to a new country, at first you don’t really feel like you’re a part of it,” he said.

With time, Modou mastered his classes—and his classmates noticed. He was approached for tutoring, and the personal interactions brought him out of his shell at last.

The growth went both ways. While interacting with his classmates in one-on-one settings, Modou was able to address misconceptions and stereotypes his classmates had about African culture.

“People think we live in huts,” he said. “The room I lived in back home was actually bigger than the one I live in now.”

As he grew more comfortable interacting in the classroom, his reputation as a knowledgeable classmate with global experience spread. One of his instructors invited him to share his outlook and experiences at the annual Association of American Colleges and Universities Conference on behalf of MCTC.

“He was the only speaker at the conference representing a community college,” said MCTC Global Studies Instructor Ranae Hanson. “He was brave, and talked about subjects that nobody else would.”

Modou’s bravery and willingness to discuss global issues also won him the Walter M. Welter World Citizen Scholarship Award, a scholarship recognizing students who exhibit qualities of a global citizen.

“This scholarship is more meaningful than others because it recognizes those who see problems in the world and want to see them solved,” Modou said.

Modou has covered much ground in his relatively short time at MCTC—in addition to mastering his classes, he’s grown more comfortable with himself. “I feel more comfortable talking about real global issues, and feel like I have the courage to have more discussions in class,” said Modou. After this school year, he hopes to transfer to the University of Minnesota or University of St. Thomas to study engineering.

“I’ve always challenged myself and put myself in difficult situations,” he said. “I believe that is the best way to learn.”

Published December 2014


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