Childhood experiences have led Rebecca Nyamal Dak, a second-year student at the Storm Lake campus, to study education.
When Rebecca and her family arrived in the U.S. in 1995, the then-five-year old struggled with learning a new language. Being placed in special education classes instead of receiving individualized language learning assistance was frustrating.
"One of the reasons why I want to be a teacher is I never got the help I wanted right away," she explained. "I just needed someone to teach me."
After Rebecca received the help she needed, she was able to catch up later on in elementary school, something she hopes to pass on to adult English Language Learners at Iowa Central.
For the past month, she has been assisting with adult language classes as she prepares to continue her education at either Buena Vista University or the University of Northern Iowa. In the future, she hopes to teach children in the morning, and adults at night.
Her ultimate goal is to receive a masters degree in education, and return to northeastern Africa to teach.
"Sudan does not have a good educational system," she explained, noting females are disadvantaged when it comes to receiving schooling.
For Rebecca's family, who has lived in various locations in the Midwest and East Coast before settling in Storm Lake in 2009, education takes top priority.
"To me, education is important, because I want to better my life and live a whole lot differently than my parents did," she said. "They lived in a country where they were worried about losing their lives and were worried about the next time they would get to eat."
She continued, "Both of my parents wanted to go to school badly, but since you have to have money for that, neither got the opportunity."
Her father, who received some schooling in Ethiopia, returned to Africa in 2009.
"It's hard on all of us," she said, in regards to being separated from her father. "I was closer to my dad than my mom, and it was hard to see him go."
Although she has not seen her father for nearly four years, Rebecca keeps in touch with him via phone.
"I hope to be able to see him if I go back to Africa," she said, noting a sizable portion of her family resides in South Sudan and Ethiopia. "I would love to go back there one day and see the rest of my family."
Rebecca's mother is a single parent, caring for seven younger siblings while working at Tyson in Cherokee, but hopes to eventually take language classes at Iowa Central.
In the meantime, Rebecca and her younger siblings, who are elementary, middle school and high school-age, help with translation and interpretation for their mother, who understands spoken English, but has difficulty speaking it herself.
"She is afraid that she will say the wrong thing and people will laugh," she said. "I can see that with the (ELL) students, here, too."
But Rebecca feels Storm Lake has proven a welcoming community for its large South Sudanese population.
She urged fellow Sudanese young adults in Storm Lake to take education seriously.
"Try to get an education," she said. "If not for you, do it for your parents or for those who died in South Sudan."