"Knowledge is real power," proclaimed the bold letters on an American Library Association bookmark. I had not seen many bookmarks before, so I looked carefully at the drawing of Superman soaring upward from between two stacks of books. I studied the bookmark trying to comprehend its exact meaning. A wave of energy swept over me. Some secret of life seemed to have been starring at me from that small piece of red and blue paper. Although, to a teenager in high school, the juxtaposition of knowledge and power seemed vague, exhilaration stirred within me. I wanted the power that knowledge brought, and I knew that I should seek it in college. Through the hallways of my high school in Sisak, a small town in Croatia, I overheard stories about college. "You sweat for months preparing for the entrance exams. You think you are lucky that you passed the tests and got accepted, so you rush to your first class to meet your teachers. Unfortunately, they have no words of welcome. In their introductory lecture, they promise to do everything they can to crush your confidence, break your spirit, and make you quit." Such tales were commonly whispered by aspiring college students.
I just couldn’t believe that. College was supposed to build my confidence in the process of attaining knowledge. Teachers were supposed to encourage me with their wisdom and compassion. They should prepare me for all challenges, not turn me against learning. The more I heard the whispers, the more convinced I became that attending college in my homeland would not fulfill the promise that knowledge offered. Only a college in America would do that.
I embarked on a research about American colleges only to find myself dismayed. The costs were staggering. Finally, I stumbled upon a private university in Iowa that was offering work-study scholarships to international students. The school would cover tuition, room, and board in exchange for a twenty-hour-per-week work commitment. The students only needed sufficient funds for health insurance and personal expenses. Including airfare from Croatia to Chicago, I calculated that I would need $2,000 per year.
I could hardly contain myself. I dashed into the kitchen that cold winter evening. "I am going to school in America," I proclaimed. My mother looked up at me while working in the foamy sink full of dirty dishes. "Yes? And who is going to pay for that?" Her voice was coolly objective. In my excitement, I overlooked the fact that, even with two jobs, my mother barely managed to make ends meet. I brushed that thought aside not willing to let it spoil my enthusiasm. I wanted my mother’s support. Everything else would work out somehow.
I wrote the letter of inquiry to the American college. Within a couple of weeks, I received a thick envelope. My mother stood beside me while I ripped it open and spread the contents on the table. I picked up the letter on top. It was from the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. I was blinded with tears as I read the words of encouragement and warm invitation to attend the college. I had no doubt that at this school, my desire for education would be cherished and respected, but to get there, I had to be prepared to wage a long and hard battle, and I had to start immediately.
My mom examined the materials amazed at the care that an American college extended to her daughter knowing only that she was a young girl on the other side of the world eager to learn. Meanwhile, at home, despite straight A’s and honors, no one showed the slightest interest in her daughter’s future. My mother then took a strong stand of support. She vowed to do all she could to help make my dream become reality. She pointed to our collection of English dictionaries.
Although my English was quite good, the materials and instructions sent by the college included many words I didn’t understand. After a few hours of translating, my head was spinning with all I had to do. I needed to take a Test of English...
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