Assita Barro could barely speak English a year ago but is now thriving in all classes and tests back in the States. In her story she shares the difficult transition from Africa to the U.S. but how she persevered through it all, knowing that one day her name would be attached to something great. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.
“Good morning!” Last year, that was only English phrase I knew how to say. As my first year being back in the U.S. has come and gone, I have proven to myself that I am capable of overcoming any obstacle I put my mind to.
I was born in the United States, but my family moved to Africa when I was three years old because my parents wanted to educate me about my African roots. We are West African, specifically Malian. I spent most of my life living in my beautiful country, and my time there really benefitted me — as they say, it is important to know where you came from.
Living on the other side of the world made me reevaluate the way I look at life. It made me realize to never take anything for granted and showed me how fragile life is for many people. I was fortunate enough to live in relative comfort in Africa, but I saw that many people in my country did not have access to basic needs like food and medical care. When we moved back to America, these experiences drove me to take advantage of every opportunity because I was conscious of how thankful many people would be to be in my situation.
Just a year before I was set to go to college in my home country, my parents and I moved back to America. Though I can speak French and four different African languages, I knew it would be a difficult transition. During my first year of school back in the States, there was only one other person in the school that could also speak French. I had to fight tooth and nail to not only learn how to speak English, but to pass all my classes and exams, the content of which was difficult enough to master in your native language, let a new language that you only started learning.
It was difficult for me to defend myself or even to explain to my teachers what I had to go through every day in school. The worst part of my experience was that I couldn’t explain how I felt deep down — it was hard for me to interact with my peers, and I felt so alone I thought of nothing else but being able to go back home to Africa. It is sad how cruel teenagers can be to each other; I unfortunately felt like I had to endure all the mockery and humiliation in secret because I did not know how to speak up to get help. One day a group of students physically harassed me and I unwittingly burst into tears, but fortunately this brought the issue to my teacher’s attention and my school did everything in their power to help me and make me more comfortable.
After just one year, I somehow managed to pass every class and state exam I took. My counselors were expecting to have to make appeals for some exams due to the added difficulty of my limited command of English at the time, but through perseverance and the help of my teachers and family, I wound up succeeding in all of my classes. I learned firsthand that overcoming adversity only makes you stronger.
With all the problems I had, not only with the aforementioned academic challenges, but also with other students bullying and disparaging me because I was different, there were many times that I wanted to give up and quit. However, I am glad that I never gave up, and I now realize that all of these obstacles only made me stronger and pushed me towards achieving my goals.
I can look back with pride knowing that I always gave everything my fullest effort and grew from all of my experiences. While I am proud of all my success, I have to acknowledge that it was not my determination alone that made it possible, but also the great support that I received from my school, family and friends. I would like to close with a French saying that I always found inspiring: “Je sais qu’un jour s’attachera a mon nom le souvenir de qu’el que chose de formidable.” I know that someday my name will be attached to the memory of something great.