By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director
When 29-year-old Alyaa Zagzoog, from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was looking for a university to attend for graduate school, she had a checklist of things in her mind; the perfect place would meet each item on that list.
The university needed to have a lot of native English speakers. But it needed to be in a quiet and affordable area.
That meant very little tourists. For instance, New York or Los Angeles wouldn’t work.
But Lexington, Ky., on the other hand? It fit just right.
“Kentuckians and Americans are approachable,” says Zagzoog, a student in the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program. “They respect the diversity in religions and accents.”
Zagzoog is one of seven international students currently studying in the College of Health Sciences. They are from places as far as the Middle East and Africa, and major in things like Medical Laboratory Science and Clinical Leadership and Management:
They all traveled different paths to UK, but now they all call this place their New Kentucky Home. And now, on International Students’ Day, we celebrate them and their stories.
Meklit Mekonnen, a 21-year-old Clinical Leadership and Management major, came straight to Beverly, Ky., from Ethiopia for high school.
“Since then, Kentucky has been my home, and I didn't want to leave after I graduated from high school,” Mekonnen says. “That is why I decided to stay in Lexington and start my college career at the University of Kentucky, and I couldn't be happier with my decision because there is no better health science college than UK.”
But some of these students made the biggest decisions of their lives while going through the toughest times possible.
“Due to COVID and attending online classes, it was hard to establish friendships and get to know my classmates,” Mekonnen says. “However, when in-person school began this fall, my experience started to shift. I was able to get to know my classmates and professors in person, which makes me feel like I'm a part of this community.”
David Anoka-Ayembe had a friend who studied Pharmacy at UK when he told her he also wanted to learn in the United States. There was only one place to go.
“Kentucky has been a very friendly and hospitable place,” says the 18-year-old Medical Library Science major from Nigeria. “The people are so nice, and I feel a full part of the groups I am in. I know I made the right choice.”
Dana Al Ghadban, a 32-year-old student from Kuwait, is also participating in the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program.
“This unique program offered at UK will provide me with a diverse opportunity to collaborate with different health professionals, learn from faculty specialized in various disciplines, develop my research skills, and be involved in teaching experiences,” Al Ghadban says. “The range of clinical and higher education experiences are among the many factors that illustrated how this program is the best fit for my professional development and future career.”
Al Ghadban says throughout the application and acceptance process, students will encounter many individuals in the university who are helpful and eager to assist international students to successfully transition to UK.
“Even before my arrival to the United States, I felt extremely welcome through my email communication with the Rehabilitation Sciences program, the Graduate School, and the International Office,” Al Ghadban says. “Moreover, my participation in the summer orientation program for international graduate students via Zoom was beneficial. You will learn so much, from the basics of living in a new country and how to maintain your international student status while studying in the United States. I absolutely love my decision of choosing to study at the University of Kentucky.”
“I strongly encourage you to attend the University of Kentucky, not only because it is the top school with a wealth of resources and connections, but also — you will enjoy the environment and the people,” Mekonnen says.
And once one international student sees the benefit of a UK education, the recruiting process starts all over again, as the students sell the university to their friends.
“I really did!” says Zagzoog. “Two Saudi girls came to Kentucky when they heard wonderful things from me about UK and Kentuckians!”