On Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, Victor Samoei walked across the stage in the Alaska Airlines Center during UAA’s fall commencement ceremony. The new mechanical engineering graduate looked out into the audience waving to his mother and father who had traveled halfway around the world from Kenya, Africa, to experience this moment. Victor’s journey across the stage had begun about four years earlier with a dream of a university education, a running scholarship and a U.S. state about as far away as one could get from his home country.
In Kenya, Victor said many high school grads pursue a university education outside the country, with most applying to and seeking scholarships for schools in the U.S. His older brother encouraged him to pursue a running scholarship to pay for his education, and after high school, he spent two years training competitively so he would be a viable candidate when it came time to apply for college. Of all the universities he applied to, Victor said UAA was the most welcoming, responsive and easy to work with in getting the necessary paperwork through. Although Alaska, it turned out, was much different than he ever imagined.
“In the apartment at the training camp I was in, we had a map of the U.S., but Alaska was somewhere between Hawaii and California — so I was a little confused,” Victor said laughing. “All the time I thought before I came here, ‘Oh, it will not be too bad, it’s not too far from Hawaii, it will be warm.’ When I landed here, it was a different story.”
He landed in Alaska in spring, when there is still snow on the ground and temperatures still dip into the 20s. It was a bit of a shock, and not just the weather, but everything from the environment, to the people and the culture. He said it took some getting used to and he’s grateful that he had a team and coaches to support him, show him the ropes and make him feel a little less like an outsider.