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From West Africa to South Alabama

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Searching for a better life, student found Bishop a good place to start

Community college's commencement set for Sunday


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May 5, 2012 Mobile, Alabama – Gisele Anic Zougmore came a long way to attend college.

She's so far away from home that her family won't be able to attend commencement Sunday to watch her graduate from Bishop State Community College. Zougmore is one of the more than 300 graduates in this year's class.

The 26-year-old woman said that people in her native West Africa think of the U.S. as "heaven on Earth, a place you really want to go to."

So while riding a bus one day in Africa she saw a sign that said "LOTTERY VISA."

One of five children, Zougmore said that they had fallen on hard times after her father, an accountant, died. She knew that in the U.S. she could get a degree and a good-paying job.

She applied for the Green Card Lottery through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, aware that the odds against her were long. Only 50,000 people from around the world get Green Cards to the U.S. every year.

But in April 2008, she was one of the lucky recipients.

She made a pact with her mother that she'd earn a college degree.

She was fortunate enough to have an uncle in Maryland. She lived with him for six months, and during that time got a job at a Sam's Club and learned how to speak English.

Tiring of the snow and cold weather, and hoping for new opportunities, she decided to head to the Deep South.

"I didn't know where I was going," she admitted.

She said that she ended up in Mobile thanks to the encouragement of a friend who was attending the University of South Alabama.

She said she checked out Bishop State online, and believed that it would be good place to start her studies.

On Sunday she'll earn an associate's degree in general education.

After graduation she'll head to Alabama State University in Montgomery, where she has earned a full scholarship.

"My mom cried when I told her," Zougmore said.

Zougmore said that is hasn't always been easy for her.

In December, for example, she was carjacked.

Her mother begged her to come home after that, but Zougmore decided to stick it out. The two men who stole the car eventually were arrested, she added.

Through all of her adventures in the U.S., Zougmore said, her mother told her "keep praying to God and everything is going to be fine."

At Alabama State, she plans to major in business and wants to join the ROTC. Her goal, she said, is to go back to Africa and open her own business.

"There have been great people behind me supporting me," she said of her time in Mobile. "I want to thank them all."

IF YOU GO
WHAT: Bishop State Community College commencement
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Mobile Civic Center
SPEAKER: U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black will deliver the keynote address. Black, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, was appointed by the U.S. Senate as the institution's 62nd chaplain. He is the first African-American to hold that position.

Gisele Zougmore, who will be graduating from Bishop State Community College, is pictured on the campus Tuesday in Mobile. Zougmore, who was born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in West Africa, earned permanent Green Cards through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, the Green Card Lottery. (Press-Register/ Mike Kittrell)

© 2011 al.com, Mobile, Ala.
© 2011 Press-Register, Mobile, Ala. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Press Register.