A Blessing in Disguise

It was Summer 2008. I travelled back to Columbia for the summer holiday, and returned to the Glory Communications radio station for another summer internship. Once again, I was back to my GRE prep for my fourth attempt. Prior to the end of the Spring semester, my advisor had told me that I needed to get a score of at least 1,000 on my GRE exam before I’d be allowed to return for the Fall semester to officially begin my graduate studies. This time, I didn’t tell a soul that I was planning on retaking the GRE exam that summer. After three GRE attempts without reaching the cut-off point, I was beginning to think that my village people were after me LOL, my African people can completely relate to this. I didn’t tell any family member, co-worker, friend, no one! I would lock myself in my room and study at night after everyone had gone to bed. Two months later, and after many sleepless nights praying and preparing for GRE, I was back at Thompson Prometric Center again to retake the GRE exam. As I stepped into the exam center, I felt like Bill Murray (Phil) in the movie “Groundhog Day” who was forced to repeat the same day over and over again. Still, my faith was stronger than ever. I checked into the exam room, said a quick prayer, and started the exam. Four hours later, I completed the exam, hit the submit button and my scores were displayed on the screen. I quickly added up the scores and to my utmost surprise, I got exactly a 1,000 combined score. I couldn’t believe it! I thought I may have miscalculated it, so I added the scores again at least three more times and indeed it was 1,000. I wanted to scream for joy. I quickly gathered my items and rushed out of the exam center and as soon as I entered my car, the tears of joy began to flow. I praised God who gave me the grace to finally pass my GRE exam in the nick of time after so many attempts. I returned home and quickly sent an email to my Program Director, and the Director of Graduate Admissions informing them that I finally passed the GRE exam. Four days later, I received an email from Graduate Admissions saying, “Congratulations, you have now met the requirements to become a degree-seeking student with the MS CSIS program…” I had waited so long for this. I give God all the glory!
The Fall 2008 semester began and I returned to College of Charleston as a degree-seeking graduate student. I enrolled in one Computer Science prerequisite course and two graduate courses and all three courses went great. However, I was no longer able to get student loans and life in Charleston became tough financially. My mother was no longer able to co-sign for student loans for me and I was completely distraught. My family had provided $3,000 for part of my tuition and upkeep. I made payment arrangements with the school and was expected to pay about $1,500 every month towards my tuition. My tuition per semester was about $9,000. The $,3000 from my family went mostly towards my tuition. I went from eating decent meals to surviving on cereals, and chicken noodles. I could only afford rent the first month of the semester and was scared my landlord was going to throw me out, but thankfully he didn’t. He was very understanding and asked me to pay whenever money became available. I had a chat with my advisor one day and told him about my financial situation and he advised me to start searching for campus jobs on the school’s website. I searched the school’s job website daily and the only position that seemed feasible was a student office assistant position at the Institutional Research Office. They only needed a student for 2 hours a day and a total of 10 hours a week for $8/hr. I didn’t think the hours were enough, so I decided not to apply and kept on searching for other campus jobs and submitted several applications with no success. The following week, my advisor reached out to me and told me that someone he knows from one of the administrative offices told him they were hiring. It turned out it was the same position I saw on the job website with the Institutional Research office with very few hours. I told my advisor that I had seen that job ad and that the hours were so few, and that I wouldn’t be able to do much with my pay if I worked there. “But at least you can eat!” My advisor responded. That was enough to convince me that the job was worth applying for. I was eating really poorly those days but I decided not to tell my family because I felt like a burden.
Few days after applying for the office assistant job with Institutional Research (IR), I was invited for an interview. It was a brief and informal interview. At the end of the interview, I gave a little pathetic speech about how bad I needed the job and was almost close to tears. The interviewer was quite empathetic towards me. The next day, I was offered the job thankfully. I started work at the Institutional Research office the following week. It was a small office with just three other staff. The Director, the Assistant Director, and a Data Analyst. The IR Office handled official data reporting for the school and maintained huge data repositories that were analyzed and used for historical and ad hoc reports.  The IR staff were the most amazing people I had ever met, they were so kind and supportive. It was a quiet office environment with very little work for me and the phone barely rang. One day, my Director, a very poised, eloquent, intelligent, and down-to-earth man in his late thirties or early forties came by and sat down beside my desk and had a chat with me. He asked how I was enjoying the job so far, and then he asked me, “Are you learning anything on this job?” “Yes, sir!” I responded. “I want you to learn all you can on this job. Do you see those two ladies in our office? They are really smart and good at what they do. I want you to learn from them. Ask them questions, be inquisitive, and learn everything they know.” I was so touched that someone of this man’s calibre could really take time to speak to me in that manner. He really cared about not only what I could contribute to the office, but also all the knowledge and experience I could gain from working there. I took my boss’s advice and became very inquisitive about the work my colleagues were doing. I found out that my colleagues were the best SAS database programmers ever. Coincidentally, I was taking a database programming class that semester, so I would share what I learnt after each of my database programming class with one of my colleagues and she would share how she applies that concept to her job. My boss gave me a copy of his SAS programming book and I began to teach myself how to write SAS programs. By the end of that semester, I had learned so much and was so sure I wanted to become a Data Analyst. 
Each time I remember how my financial struggles led me to getting a job at the Institutional Research office at College of Charleston, I shudder to think how my life would’ve turned out otherwise. My financial struggles were definitely a blessing in disguise. Institutional Research with the few work hours and low pay was a blessing in disguise. It’s amazing how the Lord directed my steps to an office where I had no idea initially that they had anything to do with Information Technology. I’m so grateful to God for causing a bad situation to work together for my good. By the end of the semester, I was behind on my rent by a few months, I had a huge tuition debt, but the Lord continued to sustain me and was just about to prove himself strong and mighty on my behalf in a huge way. The story gets even better. Watch out for the next blog post!
To be continued…