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Goucher College

Zahir Mammadzada

2020 Personal Essay

When I was young, a relative told me college is filled with books. Despite not knowing what college meant, I knew that’s where I wanted to go when I grew up. In corrupt countries, like Azerbaijan, education is always under attack. Seeing how the lack of education directly leads to more oppression, going to college became my primary goal. I came to the US on a tourist visa with my mother to pursue higher education. She promised to help me, but she changed her mind and returned Azerbaijan. I stayed with my sister who told me to keep a low prole, not share my immigration status. She was adamant that there was no possibility I could remain here legally. If I wanted to stay here, I was supposed to obey, otherwise, she would send me back home. 

I was told to be invisible and was filled with fear. Whenever I saw police on my way to school, I imagined they were going to deport me. Trying to keep my anxiety inside was burning me up. I had to talk to someone or I’d explode. I reached out to people I could trust: my teachers, counselors, and friends. I learned about our sanctuary city and immigration laws. Most importantly, I felt supported and accepted, despite my “illegal” label. Every morning, I awakened believing that I could reach my goals. With this mindset, I have lived each day to its fullest. I’ve kept up my grades, stayed positive, and helped my peers. 

Even though I had hope in my eyes, my family discouraged and disapproved of me. The restrictive cultural obligations and family rules were tearing me apart. From a lawyer, I learned that I did have legal options. Although my sister refused to sponsor me, I was lucky to know a great teacher. When I asked him to be my guardian, he agreed—he is truly a blessing. With a police escort, I left my sister and brother-in-law’s apartment while they screamed that I had shamed the family and that I was no longer welcome. 

Family is not always bound by blood. Family is a teacher who spared a room and opened his heart to a kid; a counselor who looked after me and loved me like a son. Family is bound by love, respect, and trust. 

My undocumented status overburdened me in my college application process. My experience inspired me to create a nationwide nonprofit where undocumented students can receive support. The majority of undocumented students have to overcome the fear of deportation and need a knowledgeable counselor for guidance. Despite everything that had the power to hold me back, I survived. I needed a support system, so I found one. I needed money for college, so I worked two jobs while attending high school and applying for scholarships. I needed a visa, so with my broken English I found a lawyer and pushed through. I promised myself to pursue higher education when I entered the US, and I am now a Junior in college. I am proud of the standards that I have held myself to.