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Somalian refugee’s journey brings her to Colorado State and Semester at Sea
By Gretchen Gerding, Director of Communications for the College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University
Social work student Arbay Ali had a much different childhood than most Colorado State University students. “Due to the war in my home country of Somalia, I was born and raised in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, she said. “Living conditions were very harsh. I lived in the refugee camp until I was 10 years old, when my family was given the opportunity to resettle in the United States.”
Ali landed in the Denver area where she grew up with her parents and nine siblings. She had no schooling until she came to the U.S. and was placed in fourth grade. She didn’t speak a word of English and could not read or write in her first language, Somali and a dialect called Maimai.
CSU and Semester at Sea offer opportunity
Ali has come a long way from those days to reach her senior year at CSU. “I am fortunate to have the opportunity to attend CSU through grants and scholarships,” she said. “Being able to attend CSU is enriching my life by providing me with opportunities and new experiences. By choosing to attend CSU, I know that I am receiving an excellent education, and it is preparing me for my career as a social worker.”
One of those new experiences includes her upcoming voyage with Semester at Sea. “As a future social worker, it is valuable for me to interact with people from as many diverse populations as possible. Semester at Sea will give me the opportunity to learn about different cultures and become aware of the issues that impact people outside of the U.S.,” she said. “In being exposed to diverse ways of life, I will also become familiar with their customs, traditions and beliefs.”
Ali also said the in-country service projects and interesting classes offered on board that are relevant to her major and interests were part of her motivation for participating in the program. “I think this will help me to become a more experienced social worker,” she said.
Ali’s childhood was not easy. “For the 10 years that I lived in the refugee camp, my knowledge of the outside world was very limited. In the Somali Bantu community, a woman’s role in life has always been basic survival and taking care of the family. This still continues to be the focus for most Somali Bantu women,” she said. “As the oldest girl in my family, I have been responsible for taking care of my younger siblings and doing the household chores.”
Because of her family’s situation, Ali didn’t get to experience what most kids take for granted. “While growing up, my parents were unable to provide me with opportunities. For example, they did not take me to a public library to get books, or to museums, or to places such as the zoo,” she said. “These circumstances have presented me with many challenges. Fortunately, I benefitted from community organizations that provided me with enrichment.”
Her desire to participate in Semester at Sea stems from her continuing pursuit of experiential learning opportunities. “Since coming to the United States, I have seen the many different opportunities available to women. I am glad that a program such as Semester at Sea is available to me,” she said.
Ali says her interest in becoming a social worker was a result of her own childhood. “There have been many social workers who have helped my family and me after arriving in the U.S.,” she said. “I have always been a natural helper and cared about other people. I realized that difficult conditions can often be successfully resolved with support.”
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in social work, Ali would like to apply to the graduate program at CSU to earn her master’s degree in social work. For her career plans, she is still exploring different social work settings. But she says she has the personal goal of becoming an independent woman who is self-supporting with a meaningful career.
Ali expects her experience on the ship to help prepare her for her future employment. “Living on the Semester at Sea ship for four months will challenge me with an entirely new experience. Interacting with my friends and fellow classmates will expand my knowledge and understanding of other’s perspectives,” she said.
In addition, Ali looks forward to traveling to the different cities and countries on the voyage, which will provide her with the opportunity to engage with each location’s population. “In order to become an insightful social worker, I need to learn a great deal about human nature and human circumstances. I also hope to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for other countries’ values, lifestyles and cultures,” she said
“I am looking forward to a life-changing journey while studying with Semester at Sea,” she said.
For more information on Semester at Sea need- based grants and merit scholarships for Colorado State University students, click on attachment.
The School of Social Work is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.