Dalal Orfali’s education has had a few unanticipated interruptions, but that has never stopped her from pushing forward and achieving her goals.
Born in the U.S. but raised in Syria, Dalal was in her third year of college, studying journalism, when her parents made the choice for her to return to the United States, fearing for her safety. She first settled in Florida, then Chicago, and faced a number of obstacles, like getting used to a new education system, and improving her English. She wanted to continue to pursue a career in communications, and knew that would require a high level of English as well as a college degree.
When she started researching schools, she found City Colleges of Chicago. Her friends and family urged her to start out at community college to find her footing before heading into a four-year university, where classes might be bigger and the tuition would be more expensive. Dalal chose Harold Washington College, and says it was the absolute best choice she could have made.
“Harold Washington College was really my first community here. They encouraged me and helped me gain confidence in myself and my abilities,” she said.
She remembers being overwhelmed at first, but she stayed focused and managed to get As in all her classes her first semester. She fully embraced her college experience, excited by the new topics she was introduced to, like African-American history and anthropology.
“The faculty were amazing, and so passionate about what they were teaching – I wanted to take more and more classes.”
As her confidence grew in the classroom, she learned about the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honors society, and decided to get involved outside the classroom, too.
“PTK opened my eyes to what leadership really means,” she said, noting that she was even chosen to travel to Springfield to receive an academic achievement award. She was also elected as vice president of scholarships for the group, and participated in numerous volunteer activities. It was then that she realized, in her own words, “I can compete, I can succeed, and I can shine.”
She also loved that she could help students, because previously, she was the one who needed help; it gave her a chance to “give back.”
Once she completed her Associate of Arts degree, with a focus on journalism, she transferred to UIC to study communications.
“Without City Colleges to take me in, make me feel welcomed, and believe in me, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to even apply to four-year universities.”
She also says that she wouldn’t have felt confident enough to do other things, like study abroad, or apply for jobs she knew she would qualify for.
While at HWC, Dalal also took advantage of the resources available, like a career readiness boot camp that helped students learn how to write a resume and cover letter, and practice for job interviews. In fact, she credits much of what she learned outside the classroom to contributing not only to her confidence, but to her overall education, saying “I would never have gotten an internship at Mayor’s Office or with Senator Durbin’s Office if I didn’t know these other kinds of skills.”
While studying at UIC, Dalal was diagnosed and successfully treated for lymphoma, so was forced to take a year off. During that time, she began writing down her experience and her feelings about what she was going through, ultimately putting it into a book in her native language of Arabic. Since graduating from UIC in December of 2018, Dalal is focused on promoting her book, and perhaps translating it into English before she figures out her next step.
Through all that she has overcome, Dalal’s advice reflects her own experience, and she urges students: “Don’t just go to school, take classes and go home – there is so much else to learn.”