From Kaplan to University: Ibrahim’s Story
For most of the last forty years, Silicon Valley has been the Hollywood of the tech industry – exerting an irresistible allure for the young and ambitious. But now new centers of technological innovation are springing up across the US. Among them is Indiana, where Ibrahim Al Maslam lives and studies.
Graduating next year from Indiana Tech with a double major in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering, and looking forward to beginning a Masters in Engineering management, Ibrahim is ready to join the Indiana surge of young talent. But part of his heart will always belong to Philadelphia, where he studied English with Kaplan from September 2013 to December 2014.
Embracing a new challenge
Driven both by a fascination with engineering and a passion for adventure, Ibrahim was determined to study at an American university. But when he first arrived in the US from his native Saudi Arabia, it wouldn’t have been possible to handle one major – let alone two.
“My English was broken,” he says, although he could convince English speakers otherwise. “I could talk with people and keep them thinking I understood everything – while all I really got was like 20%. I was afraid of showing that I didn’t understand most of the conversation.”
Discovering the City of Brotherly Love
“I was super excited to see what I used to see in the movies, but it wasn’t anything like the movies.” This was far from a disappointment – Ibrahim was delightedly surprised. He was particularly struck by the experience of watching the seasons change. Philadelphia is famous for its beautiful fall colors, and Ibrahim was even more excited when winter brought the first snows he’d ever seen.
A keen inline skater, he took the opportunity to try ice-skating and snowboarding with fellow Kaplan students. Ibrahim enjoyed being part of a group of students from all around the world – and compared to his hometown of Jeddah, he found Philadelphia fascinatingly diverse. Multiculturalism would become an abiding interest.
“I fell in love with Philadelphia,” he tells us – still more than a little nostalgic for the City of Love. “I feel it has become my hometown in the USA. I still don’t know if it’s normal to have feelings like that for a city I didn’t even grow up in!”
Becoming part of a community
As at all our schools, at Kaplan Philadelphia there’s some kind of excursion or get-together every day – movie nights, trips to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, sports games, comedy clubs and the city aquarium, and weekend excursions to New York or Washington DC. Ibrahim threw himself into the school’s busy social life. “I was very active at the events. I used to join all of them, every day.”
He began to organize group hang-outs and trips himself. “Ibrahim was always a leader at Kaplan,” Suzy Saracoglu, the social program manager at Philadelphia recalls, “making friends from around the world and helping them adapt to life in America.”
Pursuing a path to further success
After a year of study with Kaplan, Ibrahim’s English had improved beyond all recognition. He was ready to pursue his dream of studying at an American university. “I was the only Arabic speaker in my two majors. I will be the first Arab to graduate from the two majors Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering.”
But he’d also discovered a talent for organization and bringing people together, and he soon found opportunities to make use of it. “I attribute the creativity and management skills I have to Kaplan,” he says. “I was looking for international students to meet. I felt there was something missing like activities and events to get everybody together. That was the beginning of Multicultural Club. I worked on the constitution of the club and put things together until it became the most active club at the school.” And at nearly 300 members, Ibrahim’s creation is Indiana Tech’s most popular student organization.
An experience like no other
“I believe I have changed a lot,” Ibrahim reflects. “My experience at Kaplan made me interested in other cultures.” It’s an interest that not only motivated him to create the Multicultural Club, but has inspired him to travel the world. “I traveled to Brazil, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and more to explore and visit friends I met at Kaplan.”
And seeing the world’s always easier with English. Ibrahim agrees. “English has become my new culture, my new personality and my communication bridge with the world.”