Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Essay contest lets international students tell their stories

December 3, 2018
Psychology sophomore Natalie Kagole, an international student from Uganda, reads her essay “To Be a Spartan. To Be Empowered." Her essay won first prize in a contest held by OISS.
Psychology sophomore Natalie Kagole, an international student from Uganda, reads her essay “To Be a Spartan. To Be Empowered." Her essay won first prize in a contest held by OISS. —
Photo by Zimo Wang | The State News

An essay contest held Nov. 30 allowed students with study-abroad experiences to write about their travels — and at the same time gave them an opportunity to receive scholarships for their work. 

The essay contest was a joint effort between the MSU Education Abroad Office and the MSU Office for International Students and Scholars, or OISS. Domestic and international students with study-abroad experiences had a chance to share their stories, which were taken from interacting with different cultures.

The topic for this year was “Overcoming Challenges: Learning Abroad in a Time of Global Change.”

OISS Educational Programs Manager Amber Cordell said she expected a positive impact of people feeling more hopeful and optimistic from hearing the essays read out loud.

“I think these essays are great reminders that if you're an international student, you're not the only person who's struggling," Cordell said. "These students have also struggled, but they have achieved success. They have survived. They have become stronger and you can too.”

Both offices had its own winners and honorable mentions. Individuals who won first prizes from both sides read their essays.

Psychology sophomore Natalie Kagole, an international student from Uganda, won first prize with her story “To Be a Spartan. To Be Empowered."

Kagole appreciated the award and said she felt humbled by the opportunity to write her story.

“I do feel empowered to tell my story,” Kagole said. “I wrote the essay just to tell my story, but I did not think that it would be that appreciated.”

Kagole’s story is mainly about her transition to life in America, and how, at first, the way of life here astonished her.

“When I first got to MSU, I rewound back to the Munn Ice Arena, which is a skating ice arena here at MSU. And I was so excited to ice skate that I did not know anything about how slippery the ice is,” Kagole said. "I fell down on that Munn Ice Arena, and now I know how to ice skate. I was so astonished about how ice is in a building, that really astonished me.”

From there, she said she's been able to make friends — something she feels empowered by.

“They wanted to know where I'm from," Kagole said. "It carried the conversation on. I just felt empowered. I felt like I can do anything.”

Kagole participated in the contest because she wants to tell her story to everybody.

“I feel like Americans in general, but even other people from different countries, don't necessarily understand the experience of international students because it is so deep and so big. You cannot just tell it to everyone you meet,” Kagole said. 

One thing Kagole learned from the contest is people are always there to listen. 

“I was very astounded by how many people walked up to me after I read my story,” she said. “I realized that they do want to know, and they do want to understand, and telling your story is very, very important to meet that.”

Computer science junior Asif Iftekhar, an international student from Bangladesh, won third prize for his essay “Becoming Whole Again.” 

In the story, he talked about how he went through a lot of difficulties in terms of how his culture and environment got changed as he moved from place to place.

“What really was impactful for me was how close the changes were to each other,” Iftekhar said. “They took place within a time span of two years, and it was definitely challenging, and there were a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I also learned so much more and I would not be who I am today if I hadn't gone through these experiences.”

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