One of the University of New Mexico’s fall 2018 graduates represents the non-traditional route to achieving a degree that many students take. Mamadou Sidibe moved to the United States when she was 20 years old from Guinea, a country in West Africa. After almost 10 years going after a bachelor’s degree, she has reached her goal of earning a bachelor's degree from a U.S. institution.
After graduating high school in Guinea in 2009, Sidibe attended a local university for two and a half years. In May of 2011, Sidibe made her way over to the U.S. Sidibe said that's when her whole life changed.
“I came to America only speaking French and had no one to pretty much show me the way,” Sidibe said. “But I knew what I wanted, and that was to obtain my degree no matter what.”
First finding herself in New York City, Sidibe discovered the hardships of providing for herself in a bustling metropolitan society. She said that she had never worked a day in her life for money or worked to feed herself — at 20-years-old it was all new to her.
“I know in America people start working at a young age, but in my country that is not the case,” Sidibe said “All your parents want from you is to go to school.”
Even though Sidibe has entered an entirely new lifestyle, she said she looked at her current situation with optimism and positivity. She had a goal in mind, and even though these drastic changes were in the midst of the life she was familiar with, Sidibe would keep looking forward to the degree she had dreamt of attaining for so long.
“Working for the first time in my life was eye opening for me. I did not see it as a burden,” Sidibe said. “I just enjoyed being able to provide something for myself.”
Along with the struggles that can come with entering an entirely different culture and lifestyle comes the possible language barrier with moving to a new country. Sidibe came from a primarily French-speaking country and spoke French along with four other African dialects native to Guinea. She said she had to learn English.
“I was so shy and self conscious about my accent that (I) barely spoke in front of people,” Sidibe said. However, even though the English language posed an obstacle at first, Sidibe overcame it through incredible drive and hard work.
“I remember attending two different ESL schools, one during the day and one at night after work, I wanted to master English as quickly as possible,” Sidibe said. “I spent two years learning English before enrolling (in) a community college in the Spring of 2013.”
After enrolling in community college, Sidibe graduated on time in May of 2015. However, in the Spring of 2016 Sidibe faced challenges at her university following her Associate’s and called her academics into question.
“I failed that entire year, I almost dropped out of school due to frustration,” Sidibe said. “But I made a good choice of moving to Albuquerque at my Aunt's request in December 2016.”
Another motivating factor for Sidibe to stay in the U.S. and further her studies was her parents.
After enrolling at UNM, Sidibe found her niche within the accounting program. However, before even setting foot onto the UNM campus, Sidibe recognized her passion for business and commerce, and decided to put that passion into action by pursuing her accounting major.
“I had always loved business in general and America is the birthplace of free trade,” Sidibe said. “It is a dream come (true) for me to be graduating from a renowned institution in America.”
As a student, she has achieved great success within her program by applying the same work ethic Sidibe has applied to her studies in the past, learning a new language and overcoming other challenges.
“UNM has been so great in that the faculty and career center are such a powerful sources of help,” Sidibe said. “I was actually offered employment by PwC in their New York City office through the help of Anderson's Career Center.”
Taking the same perspective she did on finding a new life of providing for herself in New York, Sidibe takes pride in being a non-traditional student. Her route, although longer than the typical four-year track, exemplifies Sidibe’s hard work as an immigrant, and initially not being fluent in the language of the country she found a home in.
“I am a non-traditional student because I came from a different country, have an age difference with numbers of my peer in class,” Sidibe said. “I have made lots (of) great relationships over the past two years, and me being from some place else has allowed me to become more assertive and forgiving than I ever thought I would be.”
Macey Rose is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maceyrae9.