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Searching for community in a new home

In between classes, Idrissou Adam, a junior majoring in social work and minoring in sociology, received a call from his mother in their home country of Benin, a country on the West coast of Africa. She was hungry and needed him to help. In the moment Adam couldn’t focus on his classes, he had to figure out why the food he had sent to her that morning didn’t arrive.

With 6 children aged 5 to 20, and 15 siblings, Adam feels the weight of his family’s dependence on him mixed with the added stress of obtaining his bachelor’s degree. While we chatted in the noisy lobby of the AOK library, he emphasized how stressful life in America is.

“I have brothers, they do not have grey hair like this,” Adam said, removing his tan trilby hat to show me the small patches of grey emerging in his dark hair and beard.

Adam immigrated to the United States ten years ago. He met his wife, an American, in Benin. The move here was difficult. Though fluent in several languages, Adam did not speak English when he first moved here.

Now fluent in English, Adam still worries about his accent, especially when participating in his classes. Though he does have a thick accent, I did not have trouble understanding him. However, the language barrier was not his only difficulty in moving to America.

“When I came here it was like I’m in a jungle. There was no one to talk to,” Adam said.

Nearing 40, Adam sometimes feels the alone on campus because he is typically the older than all of his classmates.

“I just look at them like my daughters and my sons in class,” he said.

Adam feels like a type of support group for adult learners could help those like him, who feel alone on campus.

“UMBC could have some kind of events for just adults, they can get together and talk to each other about experiences that they’ve been having,” he said. “I feel like this can have some kind of impact; help or benefit other people.”

Having no support system adds to the uneasiness Adam feels at school, and he is conscious of his age. 

“Sometimes I look inside my class, and I don’t see anyone close to me,” he said. “I’m kind of feeling shame or embarrassed.”

Even when he feels like quitting, Adam’s wife helps inspire him to finish the program.

“Sometimes I just sit at home and say you know what, I’m just going to stop there, I have my Associate degree that’s fine,” he said, his voice frustrated. “My wife says no, don’t say that you’re doing fine. You’re almost there, don’t stop, keep going.”

Adam is also driven to be a role model for his children and hopes they see the value in education through his time in school. Besides his wife, he is the first in his family to go to college and hopes his struggle will impact his children in a positive way.

“I want to tell them look, you can’t be too old to say you can not get an education, no matter what,” he said.