One student’s journey from a refugee camp to the CWU College of Business

  • November 15, 2023
  • Rune Torgersen

When Yung Idow was growing up in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, his life was a mix of ordinary childhood and extraordinary struggle.

Daily life was a gamble, haunted by the notion that, at any moment, his mother could lose her son.

“As a kid, I was just normal, going to school, playing soccer, but there was also about a 30% chance of dying every day, and my mom was always worried whenever I would go out,” said Idow, a junior in the Central Washington University College of Business.

“Reflecting back, I’m still processing all that she went through to get me here, and the main reason I want to do good in the world is to make my mom proud; to show her that the investment she made in me has been worth it.”

In 2017, Idow and his mother managed to relocate to the U.S., first in St. Louis and then in Seattle about a month later. Faced with a new social structure in an unfamiliar country, Idow threw himself into his studies at Franklin High School to make the most of the life-changing opportunity he’d been given.

“After school, I’d go to the library to watch American movies and things like that to help me learn the language and social customs,” he said. “It was super challenging at first, but putting in the work and getting results taught me that I can do anything as long as I put my whole self into it.”

Ever since childhood, Idow had been fascinated by airplanes and aviation. So, when the chance to join the Museum of Flight’s Aeronautical Science Pathway aviation program, he jumped at the opportunity. He went on to earn a private pilot certification through the program, and upon graduating from high school in 2020, he joined the U.S. Army. Idow enrolled at CWU in 2021 as an aviation major, but then he discovered the College of Business.

“Discovering business at CWU really changed my life,” he said. “It’s a very welcoming place, and all of the teachers are incredibly nice and easy to talk to. The resources are there for anything you want to pursue, and the opportunities that the College of Business provides have helped me grow a lot.”

After enjoying such a positive introduction to the College of Business, Idow decided to change tracks and pursue a double major in entrepreneurship and leadership. The deciding factor was that he realized those two degrees would allow him to help the people he cares about.

“I changed my major because I realized that becoming a pilot is not the best way for me to help a lot of people,” he said. “My goal in life is to help as many people as I can, especially people in Africa, who are suffering in a lot of ways. I chose entrepreneurship to help their economy and help them advance in the world.”

Idow has built an expansive network in the College of Business, while also chalking up some significant accolades. Among the highlights was earning second place in last spring’s Cat Tank small business competition, alongside friend and business partner Cole Smith, and captaining team Yung Starz, which was selected to represent CWU at this year’s Boeing Case Competition.

CWU College of Business Clinical Faculty member Rob Ogburn said that out of all of these achievements, perhaps the most impressive is the attitude with which Idow approaches everything he does.

“Any one of these things would be an insurmountable task for most students,” Ogburn said. “He’s approached it all with a high degree of energy, curiosity, and a strong desire to live life to the fullest. It’s really inspiring to see someone engaged in that way. When I see people who bring that attitude to things, there doesn’t seem to be anything that they can’t adapt to and create meaning from.”

Once he graduates in 2025, Idow plans to continue his education by pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. He believes an MBA will help him set a good example and maximize the impact he can have on the lives of others.

“I want to keep pursuing my education so that I can be an example for kids like me,” Idow said. “I work hard to keep good grades so that when kids come from a refugee camp or a similar place, they can see someone like them who made it. I want them to say, ‘if Yung can do this with his background, I can do it, too.’”

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Rune Torgersen

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