Born in a small village in Banian, Guinea, Issiaga Traore knew from a young age that he wanted to go to college. “My parents never attended school and believed it was more important to work on the farm rather than be educated. They only spoke Maningo, a dialect spoken in many small villages in Guinea, and didn’t read or write. My dream was to go to school and go further.”
At the age of 5, Issiaga would watch his friends go to school and wanted the same. Once he made up his mind, he was unstoppable. He urged his father to enroll him in elementary school where he learned French and Arabic. During his high school years, he continued with French. “We only had French speaking instructors where I lived – no Arabic, so it made sense to discontinue learning Arabic.” Issiaga’s goal was to go to college in Morocco, but it was competitive and only those that met the 10% high percentile could apply. He did not meet that prerequisite. But, that did not dissuade him. His thirst for college only increased, so he applied to a local university in Guinea. He found work in the capital, Conakry, where he taught math, physics and chemistry to private high school students. But, after two years, he was notified that he had won the lottery to come to study in the United States. Through Facebook he corresponded with a “friend” and requested that he sponsor him. To his surprise he did. And, in September 2013, he came to the United States where he began his new life.
Issiaga connected with a childhood friend from Guinea who helped him complete the necessary paperwork to work and study in the US. After hearing about the Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center’s, MEOC, free ESOL program, he tried to enroll. Unfortunately, he did not qualify based on his residency in the US. Instead, he enrolled at the American Language Communication Center (ALCC) to learn English. But, after 4 months, he could no longer continue. “It was very expensive and the only program available during the evening was grammar. It is very difficult to learn grammar before the fundamentals.” The following year, he went back to the MEOC and was finally ready. He enrolled and began classes in the fall of 2014.
Issiaga is now working part-time while attending evening ESOL classes at the Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center. Recently, he was the winner of the 2015 Math Challenge. When asked about his ultimate dream he simply says, “I want to go to college and study computers. That is my dream.”
SUNY Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center
163 West 125th Street, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10027