From refugee camp to medical school: U of U grad tells her story

May 3, 2018, 8:52 AM
Courtesy: University of Utah...
Courtesy: University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday is graduation day at the University of Utah, and one of the student commencement speakers has quite the story: just five years ago she was in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Hodan Abdi says her family arrived at the camp in 2008 after fleeing their home country of Somalia. In the refugee camp, she would wake up at 2 a.m. to study by candlelight, since she spent the day cooking and cleaning and helping take care of her family.

“Day to day, you worry about where you are going to get water. When we first woke up, we had to travel [a] very long distance to get water from the reservoir. Getting water every day takes up a lot of time. Also getting charcoal, because we used charcoal to cook food. There was no stove,” said Abdi.

“I have [the] motivation to work hard because I have a lot of friends who do not have a chance to go to school or do what they want to,” said Abdi.

They were relocated to Utah in 2013. Abdi says it was overwhelming as they learned how to navigate the roads and so many other things. She enrolled in Salt Lake Community College before transferring to the U. But she did a lot of that alone.

“When we first came here, my family moved to Minnesota after six months, so I was alone here. I was really lost,” she said, becoming emotional. “But now I know. I learned a lot, and got a lot of experience.”

Abdi says she loved her chemistry and biology classes at the University of Utah and is grateful for the professors who helped her along the way. She has been accepted to medical school in Minnesota in the fall. She says she wants to work as a doctor in a refugee camp, and help others like her sister, whose baby died because of the poor medical care there.

“My biggest inspiration comes from living in a refugee camp, where there was only one doctor for 10,000 people,” Abdi said. “There were so many people who would get sick and die from preventable diseases. I want to do something to help those people. I have all the opportunities I need here, so, why not?”

The University of Utah asked her to be one of the commencement speakers after hearing her story. But Abdi says she is not the only one with challenges.

“Here in the U.S. even, life is hard. I have my friends who struggle with school, and they have their own struggles. I feel like we have our own struggles, wherever we are.”

Abdi says there were also challenges with being a woman seeking education, saying nearly 80 percent of her high school classmates were male, as most women her age got married and had children instead of pursuing school.

“My mother always encouraged me to go to school and study because she didn’t have the opportunity to go,” Abdi said. “She always said education was my way out — my future. So, I’m not just doing this for myself. I’m doing it for people like my mother, my community and friends who didn’t get the chance to go to school. I want to do better for all of them.”

“My life is so different than it was in the refugee camp,” she said. “There, you are trying to survive. Here, you get the opportunity to make your life better. Having access to education is like being rich.”







Today’s Top Stories


u of u student arrested...
Waverly Golden

Other paths to consider when thinking about attending college

Following the student loan forgiveness announcement, college is on everyone's mind. Dave Noriega takes an in-depth look at the alternatives.
19 hours ago
An electronic sign on the campus of the University of Utah was seen displaying pornography today....
Becky Bruce

Slight increase in crime on U of U campus from previous year, report says

There has been a slight increase in crime on campus over the previous year, according to a report released Friday by the University of Utah.
2 days ago
US President Joe Biden announces student loan relief on August 24, 2022 in the Roosevelt Room of th...
Betsy Klein and MJ Lee, CNN

Biden administration kicks off student loan debt forgiveness process

The Biden administration began its efforts aimed at student loan forgiveness on Thursday.
2 days ago
cline alpine board...
Lindsay Aerts

At Alpine school board meeting, Natalie Cline claims district allows porn in classrooms

Whether Cline, from the Utah Board of Education, can speak at the Alpine district meeting (where she doesn't reside) was questioned.
3 days ago
The wafer with the etched Book of Mormon on it, made by BYU students...
Samantha Herrera

BYU engineering students put ‘world’s smallest Book of Mormon’ on 4 inch disc

The entirety of the Book of Mormon is now on display on a gold-plated 4-inch disc in the Clyde Building at BYU. It'll last millions of years.
3 days ago
American Leadership Academy pictured....
Elizabeth Weiler

American Leadership Academy responds to homecoming incident

American Leadership Academy responded to allegations of body shaming and dress code at a high school homecoming dance.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
From refugee camp to medical school: U of U grad tells her story