Instability abroad follows students to US

May 7, 2012

April Wefler
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Last month, UCCS student Gatwec Dengpathot’s brother was robbed and killed near his Denver apartment in what appears to have been a racially-motivated attack. Dengpathot and his family are from Sudan, and he said in the Denver Post that the violence that is part of American society has been a shock for him.

“I always said that America is the best place in the world,” he told Denver Post reporter, Tom McGhee. “We come to a free country where we didn’t think someone would get shot and die like that.”

Dengpathot is one of several students from war-torn countries on our campus. One student was hoping to raise money last fall to go back to his country for the first democratic election they ever had. Sarah Morehead, international admissions advisor, noted that he wasn’t able to raise the funds to leave since it was last-minute.

Normally, students in the international affairs program are required to attend school full-time. If a student wishes to take the summer off, they have to ask permission for it. However, “I’m not going to deny them the ability to take time off if they need it,” said Morehead.

“When they’re going through something this emotionally taxing, I don’t want them to fail their classes if they can get time off. If my family was in a country where they could die any day, I wouldn’t be able to focus on school,” she added.

There are currently five students at UCCS from war-torn Libya. “Everybody from Libya knew how bad the situation was,” said Morehead.

In February of 2011, Libyans revolted against Moammar Gadhafi, the man who had ruled over them for 42 years. Last October, Gadhafi was killed.

“I would equate it to Fidel Castro,” said Morehead.

Libyan students didn’t have any way to communicate with their family to see if they were alive or dead. “Their dad had to go back to Libya and it really scared them,” said Morehead.

She noted that Libyan siblings decided to handle the situation differently. “The sister chose to take the semester off to be with her family. The brother chose to take a lot of classes, especially during the summer, to take his mind off it,” she said.

Morehead noted that the majority of international affairs students come here on full-ride scholarships. Their countries pay for them to get an education and bring the knowledge back with them.

Due to the upheaval of the Libyan government, the students had no idea if their scholarships would stop and if they would be forced to return to Libya. “Going back to an unstable country is a scary thing,” said Morehead.

“I can’t even begin to comprehend what it’s like to go through that,” she added.
Morehead noted that it was eventually confirmed that the students’ scholarships would still be funded. “It was a big concern. They were really scared to go back.”

She explained that many of the Libyan students are related. “It’s really important that they stick together and attend the same schools because they have a strong family foundation,” she said.

Morehead thinks that if other students had the ability to speak to a student who went through the experience of a war-torn country first-hand, it would make it real for them as opposed to seeing it on TV, where it’s harder to grasp. “It gives a face and story behind what’s truly going on with the people that have lived it,” she said.

The students’ grades might suffer, but it’s more emotional than anything. Many students on visas come here with their families; however, those like the Libyans have to sit through class wondering if they still have a family.