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International Student Pursues Passion, Changes Path Despite Odds

2022 has been a huge year for Noha Aly. After graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Project Management in January, she celebrated her son’s high school graduation and his college enrollment. Even more impressive are her strength and resilience in the face of daunting obstacles along the way. An Egyptian refugee, she’s taken on acclimating to a new culture, layoffs due to the pandemic, a family separated by immigration issues, and financial challenges unique to international students.

Starting A New Life in America

Aly moved to Orlando from Egypt seven years ago, leaving behind the violence and conflict taking place in the Middle East. However, she also had to leave behind her husband. He intended to join them after three years, but the family is still waiting on immigration.

“It’s hard to live alone with two children in a new country at 40,” Aly said.

Building a New Path Through Education

Aly earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in Egypt, but later found she didn’t really enjoy the work. However, she said it wasn’t easy to change direction in her home country.

“In Egypt, your path in high school and the credits you earn direct what degree you can get in college,” she said. “Here you can do extra, get a better degree and do whatever you want.”

Aly wanted to take advantage of the educational opportunities in America right away. “From day one when I moved to the U.S., I was looking to study,” she said. However, international students usually have to pay out-of-state tuition and cannot qualify for financial aid. These are obstacles her daughter faced as a college student. “Being an international student is very expensive,” Aly said.

In the meantime, she developed a love of photography. After moving to Florida, Aly landed a position as a photographer at Disney World. When she learned she could earn her degree through the Disney Aspire program, she was excited. “I always wanted to do project management,” she said.

Aly’s friends and family were concerned she might find project management difficult or boring, but she knew she had a passion for it. “Everyone I know told me not to go for it,” she said.

She was glad she did go for it. “I had a great professor, Mr. Vincent Painter,” she said. “He made it enjoyable. He was very encouraging. I looked forward to his feedback and I wouldn’t miss it.”

Continuing Despite the Pandemic

Studying online was an adjustment for Aly, and as she made her way through the program the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Her job at Disney was put on hold as a result. However, she was determined to finish her degree.

She paused her journey for six months and returned to her studies as soon as she could.

As graduation approached, Aly had one last hurdle to jump over. “During finals, I had to unexpectedly move as my landlord decided to live there,” she said. “I am all on my own and it was quite the challenge.”

Celebrating Her Hard Work

There are still some challenges ahead, but Aly has much to celebrate. She started by traveling to Nebraska to attend the University’s commencement ceremony in person.

“Everyone was very nice and welcoming,” she said. “I loved being there during graduation. I felt like I had been there every day.”

Aly has started a full-time position at Cigna, hoping to work her way up in project management. She’s also returned to her position at Disney. “I missed Disney,” she said. “I love it.”

Overall, her experiences with Disney and Bellevue University have helped her feel less alone in a new country. “When people are welcoming and friendly, it makes me feel better,” she said.

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