Living the Dream

Safia Jama, Early Childhood Education program student.

As an immigrant herself, Safia Jama’s interest in teaching English to others is a subject close to her heart.

“I can understand what it is like to learn in a second language, to come here as an immigrant.”

Jama, who is scheduled to graduate from the School of Education’s early childhood education program in December 2019, came to the U.S. from Somalia as an immigrant from that country’s civil war and unrest.

“I have always wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “It was a longing, something I wanted to do.”

Her journey to a degree was a long one. One of her first inspirations was her dad, a single father who encouraged her learning. “My father was the instrument of everything I’ve become.” She was fortunate, she says, that he helped her attend a private school where she learned English. “It’s not the same as speaking it every day,” she says, but it gave her a foundation.

When she came to America, she settled in Minneapolis in a Somali community, known as Little Somalia. “The people there were very hardworking, very resourceful and very family oriented.”

With the help of a mentor – Sylvia Haux – Jama got a job as a typist with the Job Corps and moved to the Rapid City area of South Dakota to a community that was 98 percent Native American. “It was a different experience and it was amazing. It was a crash course in a different lifestyle and culture.” As she hung out with her fellow Job Corps members, Jama’s English improved. Her mentor, Mrs. Haux, continued to encourage her, telling her: “ You need to become a teacher.”

Safia Jama, Early Childhood Education program student, posing for a picture with her husband and three children.

When she met her husband, himself a Somalian immigrant, they made the decision to move to Milwaukee.

Jama delayed heading to college, however, while her husband completed his master’s degree in economics at UWM, and they raised three children. His studies and their children were her priorities during that time.

“My husband was an inspiration to me,” she says, working 50 hours a week as a Milwaukee Transit System bus driver while completing his degree. She and her family now have a home in Greenfield. “It took a lot of sacrifice and time, but we are now living the American dream.”

After coming to UWM, she did well in her coursework, but found the PRAXIS test a challenge, failing it once. Not being a native English speaker and growing up in a different culture, says Jama, made tests more challenging. “Imagine having a question about Mr. Potato Head if you don’t know who Mr. Potato Head is.”

But Jama persevered and passed the test, keeping her course grades up at the same time. “I told myself ‘you’ve come this far; failure is impossible.’” This past spring, she was inducted into the Pi Lambda Theta education honor society, in which she is also an ambassador.

“My experiences can help me understand my students – their anxieties and achievements. I want them all to appreciate this free education they are being offered. That doesn’t happen in other countries,” Jama said.

Her family, her UWM professors and colleagues were instrumental in her success, she says, summing it up: THANK YOU!!!!

Her motto: “IF YOU DON’T CHASE YOUR DREAMS, WHO WILL?”

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Or contact Carol Wacker at (414) 229-3080 or wackerc@uwm.edu to explore opportunities to support students, ensure research excellence and enable ongoing collaborations with community schools and organizations.