Hamilton: the lucky discovery

By Leili Aliyari ’20

Tags features

“You’re from Iran? Wow, how did you find out about Hamilton?!” 

I have been asked this question a good number of times in the two months that I’ve been here, and my answer has consistently been along the lines of, “the magic of the internet.” I have always (by always, I mean since the age I had the capacity to consider different life options) known that I wanted to study abroad, and it is safe to say my mind was set to study in the U.S. But I had never had a solid plan for doing so. All I had known was that I did not belong in Iran, which is not exactly the greatest feeling to have about your own home country. 

When I entered high school, the fear of not knowing what my future was going to look like took over. Why, you ask? Well, in Iran, and particularly in my beloved high school, we had the option of choosing between two majors (three in normal high schools, but my school was “too good” to offer humanities): Experimental Sciences with a focus on biology, and Math and Physics with a focus on, well, math and physics. Without a doubt in my mind, I had always known my major would be Experimental Sciences, but what terrified me was how limited my life choices were. To enter college in Iran, students are required to take a test–– called Konkur––with over 200 multiple choice questions, which cover everything that they have studied throughout high school. If I passed the test, I would only have 3 choices for my major in college: Medicine, Dentistry or Pharmacy. There are, of course, other majors that are offered, but these are the only ones you could have a chance of being successful at. 

My first plan was to study medicine in Iran, which takes close to a lifetime to complete, then after doing so, move to the U.S. to continue with my studies. Little did I know that was virtually impossible due to the fact that the U.S. does not accept medical degrees from Iran. So even if I moved to the U.S. after getting my medical degree from Iran, I would have to start over, meaning I would have had wasted seven years of my life. So I quickly scratched that plan. 

In the midst of my confusion, misery and studying for the godforsaken Konkur, something extraordinary happened. In the summer of my junior year, I found out about a student of my brother who had applied to colleges in the U.S. and had actually been accepted. As you can see, this kindled a spark in me and I felt like I actually had a chance to follow my dreams. But alas, I was a teenage girl in a very conservative country with a father who would not allow me to go to college in another city, let alone a country 9,000 miles away. With the help of my mother and brother, he came around and realized that my life would be ruined if I stayed in Iran, and the best decision was to let me go. 

Things only became more serious and tougher after my father gave me the green light. I had only three months to study for the SATs; I had to go to another country to take them since they are not held in Iran; and I had no clue what was going to happen afterwards. Today marks the firstanniversary of the day I got my SAT scores, which confirmed that I had a chance. It was now time to start looking at colleges and writing all those wonderful essays. My choices were limited to colleges with the highest amount of financial aid offered to international students, which was my primary concern since the only way I could afford college was if I got a very generous aid package (1 USD equals 35,000 Rials, go figure). I took the risk of applying to Hamilton as my Early Decision II, which would normally increase one’s chances of being admitted, but the fact that I was an international student who was asking for a substantial amount of financial aid may have decreased my chances. I knew in the back of my mind that there was a big possibility of me not being accepted, so I applied to 16 other colleges (desperate much?) just to make sure I would definitely be admitted somewhere. 

February 12 came. Since there is an 8 hour and 30 minute time difference, I would have had to stay up all night for the results. That unfortunately did not happen due to the fact that my mom made me go to a birthday party the day before so I could take my mind off of things (which was an unsuccessful attempt, but I appreciate the effort). I remember jolting awake at 7:41 a.m. and frantically reaching for my phone. I remember shouting for my parents, crying and repeatedly screaming “I made it!” The rest of that day was a blur. I would suddenly start crying, then I would go into a state of shock and not being able to do anything. Even today it still hasn’t sunken it yet, and to be honest, I don’t know when it will. 

I had overcome possibly one of hardest obstacles of my life. But then came the agonizing process of applying for a student visa, and having to go to the U.S. embassy in another country since there is not one in my country (thank you politics). I honestly do not want to bore you with details as that will make you want to put the paper down, so let me summarize the last year of my life for you: it was nothing short of hell. 

Then came August 12, the day I was supposed to fly over to the U.S. I vividly remember seeing New York City for the first time, and wanting to scream in joy, melancholy and confusion. I left an entire life behind, but I had an exciting but scary new life to look forward to in the U.S. 

I had only seen photos of Hamilton. I had no idea how absolutely breathtaking this campus is. I have only been here for two months, and it has been the furthest thing from easy, but I’m holding on. I have yet to find my sense of belonging that I have been looking for for so long, but I know I’m on the road to finding it. A girl who came here wanting to study Biology, now wants to major in Sociology (yay open curriculum!). I still do not know what I’m good at, and I still do not have a definite path for my life, but for once in my life, I have control over my decisions and who I want to become. I escaped, and I would not trade any of this for the world, despite how incredibly tough things are and will probably be for a long time. 

‘From Where I Sit’ is a column dedicated to international students’ voices. If you are interested in contributing a piece, contact Britt Hysell at bbrithy@hamilton.edu 

All Features