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First gen college student, Hei Nay Moo, reflects on her time with WISE

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

From a Thailand refugee camp to St. Paul, Hei Nay Moo has always been resilient. After arriving in the United States at 18 years old, she made it her goal to get an education. Hei Nay Moo is proud to be a first generation college student. She has been in our programs since 2011.

Hei Nay Moo celebrates her U.S. citizenship

Where are you from?

I am from Burma. I was born in Burma but grew up in a Thailand refugee camp. I came here when I was eighteen years old.

Can you tell me about what it was like coming to the US? Well, it was really difficult since none of my family speak English, not my little brother or sister. It was really hard because the culture and the language vary. So it was really hard for me. Every time and everywhere we go...we need an interpreter. Back in Michigan state, there were only one or two interpreters. The good thing is my parents speak Burmese so my parents used a Burmese interpreter. I had to use a Burmese interpreter, but I couldn't understand everything. I am not fluent in Burmese. So it is really hard for me. It was okay for me. I would say everything is hard. Things are better after we move to Minnesota because of the Karen Organization of Minnesota. They help a lot.

Did you go to high school in the US?

Yes, when I first came to the United States. I did not come directly to Minnesota. I was in Michigan state for the first few months. I was in high school, but since I was almost 19 an interpreter asked me if I wanted to work. Do you want to work? Do you want me to help you find a job? I was like, I want to go to school. My mom talked to all her friends and her aunt and people and she planned to move here. There is the Karen Organization of Minnesota here and a lot of people to help os we moved here. I am very grateful for that. SO I start here as a junior at the Hmong College Prep Academy, but then I moved on to Senior. I had to be a Senior for three years. I was there for three years and graduated in 2014.

A group of women standing in from of the Cherry Spoon sculpture

Were you in Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership (GGAL) in high school? Yes, 2011 summer. That is when I started GGAL.

Tell me more about your experience. When I started GGAL, it was summer so I don't really have homework or summer school..and I am a junior so I am not really worried about scholarship a lot. We went on a field trip. We went to the Cherry and Spoon...and we went into a yoga and dancing program. It was really fun. We also go to do art and painting. We took a bus, I didn't really know how to take a bus, but we took a bus around the city. It was really fun.

Did you stay in GGAL? Yeah. During the school year, I also stayed in GGAL. They help with homework. They have mentors. Every Saturday we came to the GGAL and they helped mentor with homework. For seniors, they help with applying for financial aid, applying for scholarships, and writing essays. For scholarships, you have to write an essay and they check grammar error and other things.

What was your favorite experience in GGAL? Everything is my favorite. Summer time we go camping and we stay there for two days. All the girls! You know it is really fun. That is my favorite. And I would say applying for scholarship and financial aid are also my favorite because they are important for my future. I like everything about GGAL. They are very helpful and I am so grateful for those people and this organization.

Do you think that GGAL helped you get ready for college? Of course! A lot. I think that if it was not because of GGAL, I could not come this far with my education because I don't know how to apply for financial aid and don't know where to go. Really, I don't know anything. The first day of my St.Paul College, I remember Ms. Mysee, she was our coordinator at that time, she went with me to my school and make me register. I was really nervous, and I keep telling her I don't know how to do this. She said, "Oh you are going to be okay. Just like when you came to the US and were really nervous to go to high school. It is just like that." And she's right. I was really nervous, but now I am okay.

Hei Nay Moo poses with WISE staff

What year are you in college? I got my associate degree last year and now I am transferring to Metro State University. I am majoring in Human Service.

Why did you choose that major? I am majoring in Human Service because I wanted to help becuase coming into the US you know, I don't speak English when I was first here and my parents don't speak English and my whole family don't speak English. And there are a lot of people working in Human Service who wanted to help us. Now I feel like it is my turn to help again and give back.

Are you in the WeLead program? Yes, I am. The WeLead program also has a scholarship. $250 every year and it is really helpful too. They also help with homework for alumni. Every Saturday, we can come to the office and do homework.

Is there anything else you want to share? There are a lot of obstacles that GGAL helped me through. It taught me how to be a leader, helped me improve my English skills by having public speaking, and also help me gain self esteem and confidence. Coming together to GGAL every week with girls who were also immigrants from different countries make me realize that I am not the only one, which helps me feel better and have more courage for my future. I have developed freindships with these girls. We would go on trips together and did a lot of activities together and it was very fun. I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all the people who work, support us through our journey, it has really been helpful. I might not be able to make it where I am today. You know, I might not know how to apply for scholarship or where to go for help. You know, it has been really helpful and I am so grateful. Again, I just want to say thank you, thank you so much for your help.


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