Mohamed Yahia’s recipe for getting to the United States to study cyber security consisted of equal measures of determination, ambition, and courage plus a huge dollop of luck.
One important piece – knowledge of English – was missing. “Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t communicate,” he said. “It was very hard.”
TCC Southeast could fix that, but first he had to get here from Sudan. “There was no opportunity there,” he said. “We didn’t have internet, didn’t have a computer, didn’t even have electricity.”
That’s where the luck came in. Yahia applied for a “Green Card” work permit through the U.S. State Department’s Diversity Visa (DV) program, which provides about 50,000 visas annually to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
It was a chance, but a slim one. The program takes applicants from more than 180 countries – everywhere from Albania to Zanzibar – and there are about 20 million entrants for the 50,000 slots. Furthermore, beating those odds didn’t guarantee a visa. What Yahia “won” was the right to be an applicant for the visas specific to the DV program. He still had to pass a background check and have at least a high school education or equivalent work experience.
Those were no problem, but the hurdle he faced on arriving in 2019 to live with a Sudanese friend was a high one. “I told him that I wanted to complete my education, but couldn’t speak or write English,” he said. “He immediately took me to Southeast Campus and got me into the basic ESL (English as a Second Language) class.
Yahia has few fond memories of those early classes. “I couldn’t understand anything,” he said, “and I felt bad for the teacher because she did her best to make me understand.”
As he went through the six levels of ESL classes, however, his English gradually improved. “The teachers were very nice,” he said. “They helped us. Sometimes they translated lots of stuff so that I could understand.”
After completing all the ESL classes, Yahia moved on to the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, finished all three levels and then passed the TSI (Texas Success Initiative) test, which made him eligible to take college-level courses. He’s full of praise for the faculty and say they taught him and his classmates much more than vocabulary and grammar. “They really made things understandable,” he said, “how to read a text, to know the main idea, the argument – lots of things.”
Yahia is enrolled in the Cyber Security Program and is on track to graduate in May 2024, after which he wants to transfer to the University of North Texas for a bachelor’s degree. “I told my parents I wanted to be in a computer science field,” he said. “I couldn’t do that in my country, but here I’m allowed to do anything. Now, I’m a student – a successful college student.”
Melody Nguyen, coordinator of Southeast’s ESL/ESOL program, is proud to hold Yahia up as a prime success story. “His story is a good example of how important the programs are to the community. Students don’t just come to TCC to learn the language. We help them to pursue their dreams and goals.”
It hasn’t been easy. He’s been working two jobs – one delivering goods for Amazon and the other in the CVS Pharmacy Assistant Training Program doing medication deliveries. “It’s hard to be here without my family,” he said, “It’s hard, but I can do it. I have a big family, so I have to send them money and also work hard for my classes.”
Yahia’s pursuit of the American Dream is by no means confined to education. He had two years left on his visa but plans to seek U.S. citizenship. He wants to get married and have a family. He wants a well-paying career but says it’s not all about the money. “Yes, I can get the money,” he said, “but think about it. I can have a future.”