Senior international relations major Garang Ajak was five years old when his family left Sudan to seek refuge from war in neighboring Kenya. That was in 1994; Sudan was in the 11th year of a civil war that did not end until 2005.
Southern Sudanese Christians were rebelling against the government's decision to make Islam the national religion of Sudan; the effects of war stretched throughout the country, and many citizens like Ajak and his family fled to refugee camps in surrounding areas.
Ajak lived in Kenya for nine years until 2003 when his family relocated permanently to the United States.
If adjusting to college life is hard, imagine adjusting to a new country. Although Ajak came to the U.S. with four of his six brothers, his sister and his parents, he said that it took awhile for him to adapt.
"Learning English was the hardest part about the beginning," he said of his first months in the new country. "The entire first year was spent trying to learn it. By the second year I was set."
Ajak said that attending an American high school helped him to pick up the new language faster. At home with his parents and siblings, he still speaks his native language of Dinka, which is specific to southern Sudan.
One of the most prominent differences Ajak sees between America and Sudan is attitude, especially regarding education. "It was very sickening at first," he said. "You see people not taking education seriously. They don't see how lucky they are."
"My parents, they brought us here to get an education," Ajak said. "That was one of the top priorities in coming here."
Ajak also sees a strong difference between the societal values each country holds. "It's more of an individualized society," he said of America. "Everyone's just his own man. You just want to make your own life. At home, it's so much more communal."
Ajak hasn't returned to Sudan in over a decade, but now that a peace treaty has been signed he said he would like to return. "Two of my elder brothers are still there. They had families that they couldn't leave," Ajak said.
If and when he does make the trip back to his homeland, Ajak would like to help rebuild the country. "Maybe I would go back and help out with the development," he mused.
Ajak's current plans are to stay in the United States to work and live his life. "One of my goals is to one day be a college professor," he said. "I would do it either here or there. We'll see."