The following is one of two winning essays composed for the 2012 The Mary Cone Barrie Scholarship. The scholarship is one of few annual awards that recognize non-traditional students and their pursuit of lifelong learning.
My name is Moon Soe, and I am a junior student at Metropolitan State University, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, pursuing a degree in secondary mathematics education. This spring 2012, I am taking four classes at the indicated institute above while also working full-time during weekdays. I am planning to finish all my required courses in spring, 2013 and begin my student teaching in Fall 2013. Coming to Minnesota as a refugee from Thailand, I was so enthusiastic and hopeful to continue my education for a better life. I attended Century College as soon as I got my GED six months after I resettled in Minnesota. I was the first generation who finished a two year college, and I’m now working on to finish my bachelor degree. I am originally from Burma (also called Myanmar) and also an Ethnic Karen, one of the very recent immigrants in Minnesota and in many other countries all over the world. While living in a refugee camp in Thailand, I was hoping for a better life, but I didn’t have a choice or a chance. Sometimes I blamed myself because I felt envious of the world and people that had more opportunities. Living in the camp for 13 years, I thought I was never going to be able to continue my education, and I had so little hope when I thought about my future. However, I am really happy now that I could start to dream about my future in real life and not a daydream anymore. Working fulltime and going to school fulltime might be a little difficult, but in order to finance my family without giving up on my dream, I motivate myself everyday to have enough energy. I understand how it must have been hard for my family since they do not speak English and understand much about life process in the United States.
When I started college, I was very happy, but clueless. It felt amazing that I had the opportunity to continue my education, but I did not know how to make it through my first semester. However, I said to myself that I should grab this great opportunity, or it would go pass me. I looked up for supports from every resource I could get from college, and surprisingly I made it through smoothly for the last three years. I feel so grateful and honored that I am going to be the first generation in my family ancestry who is graduating from college.
Undeniably, I believe there are many people in the world that are in the same situation as me. Having gone through a hard time to survive, I would say it is fortune and hope that bring me to this life stage. At the beginning it was challenging for me to declare my major because the world I grew up is too different to where I am now. However, I always knew in my heart that I love working with teenaged children. Also as a student, I always love math and have great desire to enrich my knowledge in mathematics education. After assessing what my passions and my abilities are, I decided to become an urban secondary math teacher hoping I could help guide these wonderful children to grow intellectually and pursue what they desire to.
My interest in teaching began while I was teaching as a non-licensed teacher for almost two years at a diverse post-secondary school in the refugee camp. However, I felt bad for I was not able to provide my students with the best quality education because I was not well-trained but given the job due to community’s need. Then, since 2009 until now, having worked in an urban secondary public school in Saint Paul as an educational assistant, I really love my job as an educator. As a result, I would like to take a step further to become a good educator for the lifelong learning journey of the new generations. After I get my teaching license, I am planning to teach at an urban secondary school. I am also very proud to be part of community education and represent many Karen immigrants in Minnesota. Receiving scholarship would really help me graduate timely. This scholarship is not going to be just a financial support, but for me it is evidence to prove to my urban students as someone who was once hopeless now has accomplished something great.
My last hope is one day I would like to become a useful resource person in my Karen community as a professional in education. My fellow ethnic Karen has been fleeing war and became refugees for many decades. Many generations missed educational privilege. Many children did not have educational opportunities because of life they had to go through. I was once like these children and was not happy with my life. Therefore, I hope to be able to help make a difference in these children life so that their dream may come true as other children in the world.
To learn more about the Mary Cone Barrie Scholarship, please click here.
My name is Samantha Sidhu and I was born on November 15, 1977, in Beau, Québec. I was the third and last child of my parents, Joseph, a self-employed mechanic, and Anna, a homemaker. My sisters, Nancy and Diana, are four and five years older than me, respectively. Our hometown of Clear Field is a small, picturesque village in the rural Eastern Townships, but life was never easy. We grew up impoverished and my parents had a difficult and stormy relationship. They would often fight in front of us, which was distressing. I did not really understand it, but it left a strong, negative impact that weighed heavily on me. By the time I was in second grade, I began to have trouble with my schoolwork. When I reached grade three, school authorities decided to place me in a select group that split time between grades two and three. This was never properly explained to me and my parents never talked to me about it, but again, it left me confused and uneasy, especially since being in this “special group” elicited teasing and cruel remarks from other children. I felt stupid and ashamed.
Eventually my parents separated and my sisters and I went to live with my mother and new step-father, which necessitated a school change. For a short time I was bounced between grades two and three again before my step-father dictated a second move, requiring yet another change of schools.
This period of time was especially hard and I felt terrible about not being able to keep up at school. Life at home continued to be stressful as my mother and step-father had fallen into a familiar pattern of discord. Although there was some assistance with homework, for the most part I was left on my own and developed a feeling of inferior intelligence that stayed with me for a long time. By grade six, I had changed schools three times and my home-life could be described as erratic and unstable. I witnessed a lot of adult behavior that I don't think any child should have to see, and that impacted me in a way I would only understand much later. Finally, I left my mother and step-father and returned to live with my father before heading into grade six.
By the time I went into high school, I was set upon a better path and my learning improved dramatically. I excelled in music, art, and world history, becoming exempt from two exams due to maintaining an 85% plus average for the year, and even made the honour roll two years in a row. I was proud of myself and I began to shed the feeling of being academically inferior. Clearly, the environment provided by my father was an improvement. After the first year, both of my sisters moved out and on with their own lives, leaving just me and my father. He allowed me a lot of independence but maintained certain, often unspoken rules, which prompted an almost immediate leap in maturity. As my sole provider and an independent entrepreneur, my dad worked long hours and trusted me alone at home a lot more than he might have wanted. I became very self sufficient, learning by trial and error to do my own laundry, keep the house clean, and often cooking for myself and my dad. This new lifestyle gave me a sense of accomplishment for doing my part, but since poverty was always a constant in our lives, I jumped at the first opportunity of a summer job. It came after I completed grade nine.
During that first summer, the municipality of Clear Field hired me in the capacity of a manual labourer; I loved it. Not only was it fun to work outside, it was also my first taste of financial independence. I opened my first bank account and used the money to pay for my school fees, supplies and clothes for the next school year, which helped out my father a great deal. I was re-hired by the municipality for the next two summers, running a day camp for children aged three to 12. This was a leap in responsibility and cultivated my creativity, maturity and organizational abilities. Eventually, I began working part-time jobs during the school year, gaining an appreciation for work ethic, time management and commitment to my financial and scholastic goals.
As graduation approached, and I was completing courses such as Career Choices, I began to wonder what possible options were available to someone like me. My parents had never completed high-school and had never saved for their daughters' educations, so no matter my interest in veterinary work, medicine or marine biology, I knew I would need to obtain student loans and probably work while attending university. Debt was an unfamiliar and frightening prospect, especially given the amount of schooling required for these types of careers. Then my curiosity was piqued by the idea of police work and military service. I arranged with the guidance counselors of my high school to have Canadian Forces recruitment officers come to speak to students on career day. Afterwards, I was fairly certain this was the right choice for me; I planned to become a military police officer.
My sister, Diana, had moved to Toronto and whenever school, work and money permitted, I would travel the four hours by bus to visit her. I came to love Toronto and eventually moved in with my sister after graduation. She helped me get a job as a receptionist at the IT company, Allcom, where she worked, and though I had no experience in IT, Diana's boss took her word that I was a fast learner, and I worked hard to prove myself. This became a turning point in my life. I picked up on information technology very quickly and seemed to be a natural fit in the business world. Looking back, I believe this even more, as I remember how I loved to play “office” as a child for hours at a time. It soon became apparent that my enthusiasm and aptitude for this type of work had not diminished, and shortly after joining the company, I was promoted to Manager of Training Services. Even as I was gaining new computer skills, I began to teach computer courses and eventually worked on data parsing projects in the networking department and then managed help desks services. This was a time of immense learning that I loved. Wherever a new project or task presented itself, I welcomed the challenge! My previous career aspirations faded away and I became convinced that the field of business and technology had chosen me. To complement me in this field, I decided to take courses part-time at Ontario University in the field of Technical Business Writing. Shortly afterward, I decided to pursue a degree to help further my career and enhance my personal learning and began regular part-time studies.
The other love of my life was my future spouse, Lyle, whom I had met at Allcom. Over the years, our relationship has marked a path of intense self discovery that has changed my life. Early on, I struggled with insecurities, jealousy and self esteem issues that stemmed from what I had witnessed between my mother and her partners. I had never learned what a healthy relationship was and had no idea how to trust and communicate with the man I loved. I began to have panic attacks for the first time in my life. Our relationship suffered, and after my doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, I had an experience of looking at myself from the outside and recognizing my mother's irrational behaviour. I did not like who I had become and needed to change. With Lyle's help, I stopped taking the medication, began eating and living healthier, and started talking to a psychologist. With time and effort, these things helped put me on the path of learning how to think rationally, cope with anxiety, and regain confidence and self esteem: rewards well worth the struggle.
The first of some major changes came when I joined the Federal Government in the position of Business Analyst for a small custom application. When I began the job, I was terrified. I doubted my ability to learn the required skills and manage the work load. With no real experience, I was taught the basics of my new role by the consultant that I was replacing. Building on that, I quickly developed the ability to question, seek out, and discover what I needed to know, revealing another natural aptitude. I came to love analysis and began to seek out any new opportunity in the field that I could in order to further my knowledge in this specific field.
The next major change came when I joined the Publishing team of the public sector and was placed within a group of consultants, all with years more experience than me in analysis and system testing. Despite my initial anxiety I was very excited and this proved to be the most rewarding and fulfilling learning experience of my career. I look back and feel so thankful that I got to spend a year working with an amazing group of women who taught me everything from the basics of accounting to drafting complex system-design specifications. Over time, as the consultants moved on, I became the main, full-time employee responsible for the analysis section and eventually was given the position of Head of Business Analysis. After three years and a major implementation project, I wanted to seek out a new analyst position that would allow for another new learning experience and that would provide a higher income. I began to apply for competitions posted on the internal government site.
I was screened into a potential job for the Police Services as a Business Analyst that really excited me. Working within this organization felt like a dream come true for me, given my early life goals, so I studied very hard on all the required knowledge and brushed up my resume and cover letter. Once again, the work paid off and I was rewarded with the job offer, which I gladly accepted. Despite the fact that I was nearly eight months pregnant, I joined the Special Initiatives Branch within the Police Service's Chief Information Office and began to settle in. I was only there for one month before heading off on maternity leave but it was enough time to fall in love with the environment. I returned after one year, but was already pregnant with our second child. The team had undergone a lot of changes, including management, but I fit back in with ease and again was paired with some extraordinary consultants. Even though I only worked for six months before the second maternity leave, I learned a great deal from them and felt an enormous connection with the team. They often tell me how much I am missed and how they are looking forward to my return, which makes me feel very appreciated and good about myself and my accomplishments.
I look at myself today and feel an enormous amount of pride. I have become a very confident person and no longer doubt my ability to succeed or make positive changes in my life. I am very happy with who I am and I am thankful every day for all that I have. I love being a mom, a wife, a friend, and a co-worker. I love to learn and enjoy every opportunity to gain new skills or knowledge, whether it be a new recipe, a repair project or a subject on parenting. As I look back on my childhood, I recognize how important the opportunity to learn really is. I also recognize a pattern of goal-setting and achievement in my life that proves more determination and passion than I would have once imagined. Traditional schooling, self-teaching and experience on the job were all opportunities for which I am grateful, so it seems only natural to me now to complete a university degree that can only help further my career and may one day open up even greater opportunities.
Looking forward, I am excited to return to work, though I know I face my greatest challenge yet. Working full time, raising two children, and studying for a degree will not be easy; however, I believe I am more than ready.