Rumbila’s Story: Smith College Grad Works To Balance Career Goals, Family And Tradition

Rumbila Abdullahi, 23, celebrating with her husband, Ibrahim Abdi, shortly after her graduation from Smith College. Abdullahi arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, with her family in 2005 as a 7-year-old refugee from Kenya. (Courtesy Rumbila Abdullahi)

In early May, Smith College senior Rumbila Abdullahi relaxed on a couch in her living room off a quiet street in the Sixteen Acres neighborhood of Springfield, Massachusetts. She wore a baati — a traditional Somali dress — and a hijab.

Days earlier, she sat in a testing center for most of a day taking the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.

In less than a week, she would give birth to her first child.

By the end of the month, she’d be a Smith College graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

But now, Abdullahi’s mind was on the past, as she described the disorientation she felt the first time she sat in class as a college freshman.

“Going from high school in Springfield to Smith College in Northampton was completely different,” she said. “All the students at Smith were dedicated, and they were not misbehaving.”

Abdullahi gave a short laugh and adjusted her headscarf.

“The professor comes, and everybody’s all ears, and asking questions,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, OK. It’s probably just because it’s the beginning.’”

She shook her head and opened her eyes wide in surprise.

“But no. It was like that the whole time,” she said.

As part of an audio documentary project, Abdullahi carried an audio recorder for a few busy weeks — running errands with her mother, studying for the MCAT, preparing for a friend’s wedding, completing her classes at Smith College and giving birth. She captured an eventful and stressful time in her life, taking on a number of major transitions all at once.

Click here for the full story and audio from New England Public Media.