If it had a plug or ran on batteries, little Mishal Mohammad Raza wasn’t about to let it collect dust. Curiosity powered the 11-year-old to take it apart and peek inside at whatever old and disabled device she’d find taking up space in her home.

“Growing up, I saw too many people struggle with simple chores,” said Mishal, who humbly recalled watching her father, a doctor in their hometown of Arusha, Tanzania, provide medical care in areas without paved roads, running water and electricity. “I always wondered what I could do to make something better, how I could solve a problem.”

The toughest test proved not to be the circuitry of a telephone or DVD player, but how would Mishal quench her thirst for knowledge in a land where career options for women in science and technology are as few as zebras, elephants, and giraffes are plentiful. Fortunately for Mishal, her parents had an answer to her dilemma. Just as they did for her three older siblings, they applied their limited financial resources and sent Mishal to study abroad.

Coming to America from Africa and earning an associate degree with a focus on Mechanical Engineering at Broward College opened a whole new world for Mishal, from the moment her plane touched down in Fort Lauderdale.

Coming to America

Mishal Mohammad Raza
Mishal Mohammad Raza (center)

“I was like ‘oooh’ when I passed the beach and saw women dressed like that,” said Mishal, who sports a headscarf required of her Muslim faith “The way people live in Tanzania is different than the way they live in Florida. It was complete culture shock.”

Mishal didn’t want the locals to judge her as a problem. Any notion she might be was quickly dispelled when she enrolled at Broward College, where her classmates were as intrigued by her as she was with them.

“They are curious and have lots of questions,” said Mishal, who, as a climber of Mount Kilimanjaro in her native Tanzania, is accustomed to challenging and uncharted terrain. “They are fascinated by my culture and the way I dress. But they are not judging me, and I like that.”

Mishal’s accomplishments speak volumes about both her determination and resourcefulness. She was vice president of service for Phi Kappa Honors Society and Voice for Animals, a member of the tennis and engineering clubs at Broward College, and a math tutor at the Academic Success Center. Her busy schedule has not prevented her from posting a 4.0 grade-point average. She credits the campus  Professional Enhancement Program, at which she now serves as an intern and “chilling’ with her peers for softening the distance between her family back home.

Is it Worth It?

“The high cost of travel makes visiting home often not an option,” said Mishal, who lives in Davie with her uncle and grandmother. “It’s a huge transition being apart. I was their youngest child, the pampered one.”

The lonely evenings can’t help but rent space in her head, reminding her of life in Africa and the times her father checked in on her to say goodnight. She misses her mom’s meals and cozy hugs and sometimes questions if her journey is worth it. When her fears try to get the best of her, she fondly remembers her mother smiling, wondering aloud “what she should do” with 11-year-old Mishal after she found her daughter tinkering again with another household appliance. Then the decision to leave Africa is silently reaffirmed.

“While I have my struggles, each student faces setbacks,” said Mishal, who upon graduation this December, is transferring to a University in Texas to continue toward a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and energy engineering. “Life is full of challenges. I can either be defined by the challenges I face or how I overcome them. I choose to be defined by how I overcome adversity and strive for a better future. You can do the same.”

For more than four decades, Broward College has been a leader in international education, partnering with colleges and universities throughout the world to provide a more accessible way to attract students from across the globe. Learn more about opportunities in International Education at Broward College here.