An advocate for the displaced
Bandak Lul came to Arizona in 2006 as an Ethiopian refugee. He was 15 years old. He was lucky enough to be accompanied by his older sister, but the rest of his siblings, his mother and his father all remain in a refugee camp there today after having to leave their home country of South Sudan.
Rather than dwell on that fact, Lul focused on his education with the hope of one day returning to help his family as refugee advocate. By the time he graduated from Camelback High School in Phoenix, he had a 3.8 GPA, was in the top 15 percent of his class and was chosen as “Outstanding Student of the Year” for the Phoenix Union High School District.
Lul received a presidential scholarship to attend Arizona State University, where he will graduate this May with concurrent degrees in political science and sociology.
ASU Now sat down with Lul on a beautiful spring day outside of ASU West’s Fletcher Library to learn more about the soon-to-be New College graduate and his future goals.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study political science/sociology?
Answer: My interest in politics and international relations started off with my father’s work. He was a community leader, and he was always getting involved in things to better the community. After graduating high school I wanted to be a pharmacist but as time went by, it interested me less and less. I began leaning more toward politics, and I began reading about events that were occurring in South Sudan as well as here in the U.S. I’ve been involved in community service ever since I came here, so I decided to major in political science because that’s the kind of work I want to do in the future.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: In classes I’ve learned that as a U.S. citizen — I’m not a U.S. citizen — but as a U.S. citizen, no matter where you go or what you do, your interests will always be for your country. And that is something that my people [in South Sudan] lack. We tend to just aim for things that are in our own self-interest, not for the whole nation.
In particular, I’d like to mention two of my professors: Dr. Vaughan and Dr. Ackroyd have been very helpful in assisting me with the resources I needed to succeed. The way they teach their classes is very understandable. Most of the time Dr. Ackroyd steps out of the book and relates the chapters to current political events. The same with Dr. Vaughan; she taught us hands-on research where we conducted on-campus and off-campus interviews for both quantitative and qualitative results.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: When I first came here, one of my teachers in high school was a U.S. history teacher, and he told me about both UofA and ASU. He went to UofA for his political science degree, but he always spoke very highly of ASU. So ever since then, I’ve been following ASU football, basketball, other sports and also current events. I also had a friend who went to ASU for pre-law, and he encouraged me to go here. I feel like it makes sense for me to be an ASU alumni because it’s like home to me now.
Q: What do you like about ASU West in particular?
A: I like the quietness. I mean, you can’t beat this [gestures to surrounding environment], the birds chirping … and everyone is all about their business. You come here, you take care of business and you go about your way. And the staff are wonderful. I really appreciate what they do for the students.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Even if you’re not an outstanding student, there are always resources for you to seek help. There’s always help on campus; there’s tutoring and all these other facilities. There’s a lab right now that I go to almost every day to help me with my statistics. So never be afraid to ask for help if you’re going through some difficulties.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I go to the FAB LAB , it’s the statistics lab [that I was talking about]. I have a couple friends of mine who go with me before classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. We also try to take advantage of the nice new fitness center, and we use the library a couple of times a week, too.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I’ve been volunteering with nonprofits that aim to better refugees’ lives, and currently I’m in the process of submitting an application to be a mentor for newcomers [at a nonprofit]. After graduating I want to see if I can find a position within one of those organizations, maybe Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services or something like that. Also, after graduating, I’m continuing my education here at ASU, so I’m looking forward to completing my master’s in social justice and human rights in May 2017.
Q: If someone gave you a bunch of money to solve one problem in the world, what would it be?
A: I would solve every little issue, or every little struggle that I went through as a refugee child. Having to wake up not knowing what you’re going to eat the next day, getting housing for those who are in need of housing. So poverty in general; it’s the umbrella over all those little issues, things like not having food, not having proper shoes, clothes or shelter.