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International student using her education to help cultivate change

“Live small” is not a life motto that many choose to adopt, but for Michella Kopti and her family, it was necessary. Growing up in Jerusalem as a Palestinian was often tense and not a predictable situation, and Kopti was encouraged to keep her head down and comply with the local laws.

“Even though I saw the wisdom in my parents’ passivity, in my heart I refused to accept that submissive way of living,” reflected Kopti. "I ached to be able to do something about it.”

Photo by Nate Edwards

Knowing that higher education is often the catalyst to making meaningful change, Kopti was inspired to follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue a college education in the United States.

An opportunity was presented when Kopti was offered a full-ride scholarship by the BYU Jerusalem Center to attend BYU in Provo, which Kopti gratefully accepted. This scholarship is granted to only a couple of Palestinians each year and is a great honor.

Leaving behind her home and the life she knew, Kopti traveled 16 hours and a world’s distance away to reach Provo. The bustling city streets she once walked were replaced with asphalt roads, and the scent of homemade pita and falafel were traded in for the smell of Cougar Tails and Brick Oven pizza.

Photo by Nate Edwards

“Leaving Jerusalem was a bittersweet moment for me, filled with both excitement for the opportunities ahead and the guilt of leaving behind my loved ones,” Kopti admitted. “But, I knew that pursuing an education in the United States was a necessary step towards breaking stereotypes and representing my people in a positive light.”

Kopti, a senior about to graduate in statistics, reflected on her time at BYU. Her experiences have taught her self-reliance and set her on an academic path to accomplish her goals. She feels grateful for the professors and mentors who took her under their wings and opened doors of opportunity for her.

“BYU was my first home away from home. It will always have a special place in my heart. I know I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if it wasn’t for the lessons I learned here.”

At BYU, where the culture can seem homogeneous, it wasn’t always easy for Kopti to feel accepted as a Palestinian and a non-member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially as an international student during the global pandemic. However, she learned to have the courage to stand out and be proud of her Palestinian heritage.

“I came to realize that keeping quiet only contributes to further misunderstanding,” Kopti said. “Whether or not I would ever be accepted, I needed to give my peers the respect of being my authentic self in helping them understand my culture and upbringing.”

After taking POLI 200 and POLI 328, Kopti discovered her passion for combining statistics with politics. Her years at BYU have helped hone her critical thinking, research and communication skills, which will be indispensable as she attends law school, her ultimate goal.

“From engaging in political science and history courses to participating in clubs and organizations focused on social justice, I have been able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the legal and societal issues that I will confront as a civil rights lawyer.”

Her experiences as a minority in both Jerusalem and Provo have prepared Kopti to be a voice for those who are without one. Instead of fearing the law, she has realized she can use it to protect the disadvantaged.

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"My ultimate goal is to return to Jerusalem one day, equipped with the knowledge and skills to make a meaningful impact in my community."
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Kopti no longer needs to put her head down and “live small.” Rather, she is determined to tackle injustices and chooses to live by a new motto: "Rise and Shout!"

By Kailey Marshall, April 26, 2023

Media Contact: Aaron Sorenson