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The only thing University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduating senior Mdeen Savage knew of America is what she saw in Hollywood movies. Born and raised in The Gambia, a small West African country, Savage was a bit surprised Oshkosh wasn’t home to a plethora of tall buildings and endless yellow taxi cabs waiting to take you wherever you wanted to go.

Savage remembers a turning point at age 16 when her mom took a new job in Machina, The Gambia, which made her realize her parents were doing everything possible for her to get an education.  As the first of six children to go to college, Savage said she felt a lot of pressure to be successful. She had to work to overcome the language barrier (everyone talks so fast), the food (different from home) and technology shortcomings…she didn’t grow up using computers, software and or even keyboards from a young age.

“My mother told me that she doesn’t need expensive things because her children are the valuable items in life. So, I took advantage of every opportunity to connect with professors and use campus programs (math lab, writing lab and tutoring) to make sure that I was successful in my program,” Savage said

She studied international studies and French at UW Oshkosh. She found her revolution and development class taught by the late professor Kenneth Grieb to be one of the most beneficial, helping her understand how to make a difference in the world and, more importantly, at home in The Gambia.

“This class helped me understand what it takes to develop a country from scratch. The infrastructure, the people and the time it takes to get those pieces together. It also pointed out how corruption slows this process down so much. I hope to take my knowledge and help aid my country in developing,” Savage said.

Outside the classroom, she participated in Model UN, which allowed her to see different parts of the country including Missouri and New York.  She was also fascinated by the southern accents in her additional travels to Atlanta and Texas. She is thankful for the many friends she made at UW Oshkosh who accommodated her throughout her experience.

“I am so grateful to my fellow students who listened to my story, accepted me and my culture, gave me rides to and from the store and overall helped me succeed,” she said.

The craziest part of the UWO experience for Savage was the Wisconsin weather. She had the opportunity to walk on the ice of Lake Winnebago with her boyfriend.

“It was a big shock. I came here in late January, and I  thought I knew what cold was because I attended school in the United Kingdom. But it is nothing compared to here. One of my favorite experiences was walking on the lake because I was walking on the water…something I could never do at home.”

After graduation on Saturday, Dec. 15, Savage will seek an advisory position within higher education to share her story with other international students. She wants to help them acclimate to the college environment and ease their anxiety. Her long-term plan is to attend law school.

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