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Science Teacher Shares His Journey After Winning The Green Card Lottery

In 2003, in Burkina Faso, Abdel Akim Adjibade found out he won the lottery — the green card lottery. He became one of approximately 50,000 people each year to win entry to the U.S. this way, and now he teaches physics in Illinois. He shares what this experience was like for him.


Lots of people from lots of countries have come into the U.S. through the visa lottery program over the years. We thought we would hear one story out of those many. And so we're turning next to Abdel Akim Adjibade. He won the lottery in 2003 and came to the U.S. the following year in 2004. Abdel, welcome to the show.

ABDEL AKIM ADJIBADE: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Now, at the time when you won, you were a science teacher in Burkina Faso in West Africa. And I hear you had actually applied - this was the fifth time you had applied for the program.

ADJIBADE: That's true.

KELLY: What made you so determined to come to the states?

ADJIBADE: Well, a strong desire to change my living condition. And, you know, when you're abroad, you look at America as the heaven.

KELLY: Heaven.

ADJIBADE: So a strong desire to come, very determined, and it didn't cost me anything to apply.

KELLY: Tell me about the moment that you found out - fifth time lucky - that you had won.

ADJIBADE: (Laughter) So I went to check the mail, and I saw a big envelope - manila envelope.

KELLY: Literally a big, fat envelope with your name on it.

ADJIBADE: Yeah, with my picture sticking out. I open it. I read that letter with my picture with a case number. Congratulation, you have been - I start shaking, you know, realize really what was happening to me. And then I made a phone call to my dad. I said, Dad, I just found that I have an opportunity to go to USA. He said, if it is in your best interests, you can go.

KELLY: Now, you get here, you have one cousin, no, you know, brothers, sisters, parents here. You had no job lined up. What was it like at first?

ADJIBADE: Well, what we don't know when we apply is that once you go through the airports, you are on your own. Everything that happen to you will be a matter of good luck and good circumstances.

KELLY: Is there a memory that stands out from those first days of trying to figure it out here?

ADJIBADE: Well, let me say this - in Africa, when you pass someone, wherever, your first action is to greet that person. Here, it seems like when you're the first to say hi, you want something from someone.

KELLY: So you're wandering around your first few days saying hi and greeting everybody, and everybody's giving you a funny look.

ADJIBADE: Well, it's not - it's not like I was greeting everybody. I remember one thing that happened to me. I was walking down the University of Illinois. I saw a girl, and I said hi. She just jumped back. I just want to say hi. May you tell me, you know, where I can find this or this? She just jumped back, and I could see the fear in her eye, and I just say I'm sorry.

KELLY: I want people to know that you have done just fine in the decade-plus since you landed. You've gotten your bachelor's degree. You've done your master's degree. You're now an instructor of physics. You teach at Eastern Illinois University, right?

ADJIBADE: Yes, yes.

KELLY: What do you make of the fact that this program that brought you to the United States - through which you have thrived, that it is very much in the news right now - President Trump would like to eliminate the program?

ADJIBADE: (Laughter) Well, I have to say there are so many inaccurate statements out there.

KELLY: Inaccurate statements.

ADJIBADE: Yes, inaccurate statements. As for me, you know, you can tell I've been teaching in Eastern Illinois since 2012. I'm doing pretty fine. And people will not say that I'm useless to the United States or I'm taking advantage of the United States' resources. It's so sad that the rhetoric that is going out out there, but I don't want to be too political.

KELLY: That is Abdel Akim Adjibade...


KELLY: ...Visa lottery winner and instructor at Eastern Illinois University. Thanks so much for talking to us.

ADJIBADE: Thank you for having me.

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