From the Horn of Africa to the seven hills of St. Paul

Memoir by Warda Mohamed Abdullahi ’20 reflects on her remarkable story as a first-generation student and refugee.
Warda Abdullahi and her memoir

Gomen Studio, The Home of Art. Cover illustration: Athena Currier

Warda Mohamed Abdullahi’s path has been anything but simple: the story of a young African woman navigating childhood as a refugee, landing in the United States with her family, and accomplishing her dream of becoming a college graduate.

In Warda: My Journey from the Horn of Africa to a College Education, the Somali-American writer and 2020 St. Kate’s alumna paints a rich portrait of her experiences living in rural Ethiopia and South Africa to pursuing higher education in the U.S. Throughout the memoir, Abdullahi details her challenging journey to earning a college degree. “It has always been a dream of mine to have access to the best education in the world and despite everything I have been through.” Through a childhood in rural Ethiopia, a journey across South Africa to reunite with her father, and resettling in the United States, Abdullahi held steadfast to her goal of becoming the first in her family to attend college. 

Searching for an institution that would best support her educational goals, Abdullahi says that the choice was clear “None was more important than St. Catherine University,” she recalls. “St. Kate’s is led by strong women, taught mostly by women, and I fell in love with the campus. St. Kate’s also educates women to lead and influence, and I want to be part of that.” 

At St. Kate’s Abdullahi found support — not only academically, but in community — for her experiences as a first-generation and refugee student. “St. Kate’s is a community that focuses on helping students succeed,” she says. “St. Catherine University guides students to learn through a strong community of women in their chosen profession. Students are able to feel confident in their careers and be ready for world obstacles.”  

In particular, Abdullahi says that “the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women was one of my favorite spots. No matter how low you feel, you will always find support from it, whether it's mentally or physically.”

With encouragement from friends, faculty, and others, and as part of her senior public health project, Abdullahi wrote and published a memoir about her journey, and in 2020, she graduated with her bachelor's degree in public health and minors in English and chemistry. As she continues spending time with her family and her lifelong learning in Islam, she plans to attend medical school in order to achieve another long-held dream: becoming a family doctor.


Read more about Warda Mohamed Abdullahi ’20.