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Paralegal Studies graduate
“When I came to the U.S. from Eritrea, I had no idea what I wanted to do — it was a culture shock. I was trying to decide whether to work or go to school and I went to the nearest Dallas community college to me, which was Richland College. The advisors there asked me what I wanted to do and I told them my long-term plan was to become a lawyer. So they suggested El Centro’s Paralegal program. It was the first time I had even heard the word ‘paralegal,’ and I had to write it down — I didn’t even know how to spell it. Then I took my assessment tests and passed the English portion.
“The Paralegal program at El Centro was wonderful. I had extraordinary professors; Carole Olson and Dudley Knox were especially helpful. Early on, I had a lot of difficulty with the English language and Carole helped me with grammar and everything. The classes were convenient — they have them nights and in the summer, since so many students work.
“My long-term goal is to go to law school. That has always been my dream, from childhood. But they told me I had to speak good English to become a lawyer and that I might not make it. Let me tell you something: as long as I have the guts to learn and to go to school, I can do it. I know that I will do it.
“I will do whatever it takes to reach my goal and I’ve learned the English I need. My accent will never sound like an American who was born here, but I know what I need to do my studies. In fact, the language has been my biggest challenge — nothing else was that hard. I was OK with the food and the hot weather here, but it has been a real challenge to go to school in a language that’s not my native tongue. Still, I have been able to do it and I’m proud of that.
“My advice to international students is that you have the opportunity here in the U.S., access to financial aid and all kinds of resources, so just take all of that opportunity today, not tomorrow. By going to school, you can achieve your future goals. This is a beautiful country; where else would I get this kind of opportunity?
Daniel Habtemariam was born in Eritrea, an east Africa country bordering Sudan and Ethiopia. He also lived in Kenya for five years, serving as a volunteer in a refugee camp for asylum seekers before emigrating to the U.S. in 2005. He speaks Tigrigna, one of Eritrea’s official languages, besides Arabic and French as well as English. He earned an associate degree in Paralegal Studies from El Centro College in May 2008 with honors and a 3.8 GPA and has been taking courses at Richland College as prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree. He volunteers with the International Risk Committee in Dallas, helping refugees who are seeking asylum to assimilate.