Central Washington University, Undergraduate
August 15, 2019
We are pleased to announce Robert Kariuki as the winner of The 2019 Life Coach Spotter Scholarship for $1,000. Robert, an undergraduate originally from Kenya, was selected from a pool of over 350 candidates.
Robert composed an incredibly moving essay about the unimaginable struggles he faced as a child, and how he overcame them as an adult. Due to his parents moving to the USA in hopes of providing a better way of life for his family, he grew up at his aunt and uncle’s house in Kenya. He walked 15 miles to school due to not being able to afford the bus fare, slept in harsh weather conditions in a room with deadly snakes within reach, and went to school hungry most days because of financial constraints. Once Robert was able to make his way to the USA to reunite with his parents after 15 years, he struggled with the adaptation of a predominantly English speaking country. He is fluent in four Kenyan languages, none of which are applicable in America. He took it upon himself to attend an additional group on top of his studies to learn how to read and write in English. He used what he learned to succeed in his classes and to be able to communicate with his American siblings. His story goes on to prove how Robert’s past difficult circumstances don’t define his present or future. He not only made a life for himself in the USA but is looking to embark on a career to give back to the very people who helped him learn English. Reading his amazing essay, you would never be able to tell Robert ever struggled to construct an English sentence. It is an absolute honor to award our scholarship to him. Congratulations, Robert!
It was a freezing night back in the year 2000 when we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Airport located in Nairobi, Kenya. I was saying goodbye to my parents. I was too young to comprehend what had occurred. It was not until some years later when the hard reality kicked in. My parents had left me to go to the United States of America in search of better employment, and they were not coming back. They were escaping the poverty experienced by my family in Kenya. My mother had five brothers and four sisters; none of them had the chance to attend school. Her youngest sister was the only one to graduate from high school. Due to financial constraints, she was unable to further her education. Years later, I also had the golden opportunity to attend a public school. However, life was not easy.
As a child growing up in my aunt and uncle’s house in Kenya, I walked roughly fifteen miles to and from school; from Monday to Friday. The mornings were especially brutal. I would put on shorts that barely reached my knees, and the cold mornings were unforgiving. I could not afford ten Kenyan shillings or the equivalent to 0.0097 American dollars to pay for my bus fare, regardless of my parents being in America. Sometimes, I went to school on an empty stomach. My aunt and uncle sometimes argued over my care, and I would pay the terrible consequences. My stomach growling so loudly in class. My teacher and classmates would burst into laughter. If only they knew my story, I quietly wondered feeling embarrassed. During the nights, I slept in a room meant to store building materials like cement, which was located roughly thirty meters from the main house. Those were horrible nights. The room was poorly built and had large openings on the sides and the roof, which allowed the biting cold to pass through. Before I slept, I had to thoroughly check all around the room, making sure no poisonous snakes were hiding. My most feared one was the deadly Black Mamba. The area we lived in was famously known for the huge abundance of these deadly snakes.
On the 10 th of October 2015, I set foot in America. I saw my parents for the first time in fifteen years. They could barely recognize me. Furthermore, I shed tears when I saw my siblings for the first time; as they were born in America. Little did I know what to expect. I could barely communicate with my siblings due to their American English accent. My battle to speak and write in English officially started. I speak four Kenyan languages, none of which are applicable in America. My brother, who is the youngest, questioned my origin and wondered who I was due to my terrible English accent. To date, he still struggles to comprehend the fact that he has a Kenyan brother. That was just the tip of the iceberg.
My inexperience with English intimidated me when I enrolled in the summer of 2016 at Tacoma Community College (TCC). I had a rough time writing college essays. One day, my English 101 professor informed us that we had to write an essay about the American Constitution. I found myself confused with five languages; including English. I could scarcely write a grammatically and correctly punctuated English sentence. My struggle with English brought me to my knees during exams. I had to translate them word for word in Kiswahili; one of my native languages while I took them. Meanwhile, my classmates made it look easy and
would finish the exams in record time. I was always the last student to leave class. Some professors understood my situation, and allocated me some more time to battle my exam. I nearly quit school because of my poor English.
To improve my English and to gain my brother’s acceptance, I started attending an English conversation group that was started by immigrant students from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had the chance to interact with other students who shared a similar story. Together, we learned how to speak and write in English. Thanks to the group, my written and spoken English significantly improved. To date, I am still great friends with some of the group members. Additionally, I attended my English professor’s office hours for further writing help. Sometimes, she teased me that I needed to leave some time for other students. Regardless, I persisted.
Despite my background and terrible English, I pressed on and graduated from my community college. In addition, I took some Spanish classes as I am passionate about languages. I will not let my poor English bar me from becoming a pilot flying for Emirates, and being addressed as Captain Robert Kariuki. This is my dream. I applied and got accepted to my major as a professional pilot, with a minor in Spanish at Central Washington University (CWU). I Plan on starting CWU this coming fall.
From my experiences growing up in a third world country, and my battle with English, I learned that my past does not define my future. I found the self- motivation deep in me to forge ahead even when faced with significant challenges. Lupita Nyong’o a Kenyan- Mexican Hollywood actress once said, “Your dreams are valid.” Therefore, with perseverance and commitment, I will realize mine one day. Furthermore, I learned the significance of lending a hand to others; even with the smallest of things. As a result, If possible, I plan on forming an English conversation group at CWU to help students from underrepresented backgrounds, for whom English is not their first language. The United Arab Emirates Students put a smile on my face when I was struggling, and I plan on reciprocating their kindness to others at CWU. With help from the prestigious Life coach spotter scholarship, my goals of joining CWU as an immigrant and first- generation student will be realized. Thank you for considering me for this scholarship.
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