Yusuf ’21 Attends Andover as Somaliland’s Sole Representative

To honor this school year’s theme of “Citizenship,” each week The Phillipian will feature an international student at Andover and detail their experiences as participants in multiple national cultures. This series will aim to highlight the diversity of Andover’s community and explore the lives of its various global citizens.

Although many people mistakenly assume she is from Somalia, Zakeiya Yusuf ’21 is proud to introduce herself as from the Republic of Somaliland. With a flight route that found her landing in Dubai and Ethiopia, Yusuf embarked on her first journey to the United States to attend Andover’s ACE-9 summer program on a Visitor Visa. After obtaining her F1 Student Visa, Yusuf was finally able to matriculate as a Junior at Andover.

“She had to go to Dubai, and from Dubai to here, [which] is like a two and a half day trip,” said Susanne Torabi, International Student and Academy Travel Coordinator. “And she did that twice, because we had to make her go back after she ended the summer session program to come in on her F1 Visa.”

Yusuf learned about boarding schools in the U.S. from Sami Atif,  Instructor in  Mathematics at Phillips Exeter Academy, who visited her former school near Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. Drawn to Andover’s multicultural student body and free dress code, Yusuf decided to apply.

“I came this summer for summer session, and that was the first time I came [to the U.S.],” she said. “A lot of people [at Somaliland] immigrate to Europe, especially teenagers, but it’s sad because a lot of them die on the way to get to Italy… America is like this great place that they would do a lot to go to.”

Somaliland gained independence in May 1991 following the overthrow of President Siad Barre and the collapse of the Somali government. Though unrecognized internationally, Somaliland has its own government, elections, and currency independent of Somali, and boasts a population estimated at about 3.5 million people, according to the BBC.

“One of the most important things that I want people to know is that [Somaliland is] different [from] Somalia. Because when people hear my country, I feel like they don’t hear it… it’s like they just assume I said Somalia,” said Yusuf.

“I would like [people] to know that it’s peaceful because once they hear Somaliland, they think it’s Somalia, and then they relate it to sea pirates… I don’t blame them because they probably don’t know, but I would like them to know that it’s actually quite peaceful and quite different.”

Although Somaliland is a self-declared autonomous state, it is still officially recognized as a part of Somalia. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s Executive Order “Travel Ban,” which includes Somaliland, Yusuf will continue to face challenges regarding her stay at Andover.

“What will happen at the end of the year? Will it be safe for her to travel back home?.. Those questions most of our students don’t have, but she is faced with that, and she will need support,” said Torabi. “It is my hope that someone on an F1 Visa student will be beared from restrictions, but extra screening and all that will clearly be part of her journey, and that raises anxiety.”

At Andover, Yusuf has had difficulty adhering to Muslim prayer rules due to the lack of an Adhan, the Islamic call to worship. Back home, Yusuf heard this call multiple times a day.

“There’s no Adhan… so sometimes it’s easy for me to forget to pray, which I haven’t done in quite a while. I feel bad that [praying] slips out of my mind when I don’t hear the Adhan,” said Yusuf.

In her time outside of school, Yusuf plans to stay with either her host family or older sister, who currently attends university in New York.

“I miss my little brother very much, and it’s kind of sad because I’m gonna miss seeing him grow up and all… I’m gonna miss my friends and the food too. It’s very different from here, especially the rice,” said Yusuf.  

“Even though there are things that I would like to do during summer here at Andover, I think I still need to go back and see my family and friends.”


Yusuf hopes to pursue her passion for astronomy, dance, and guitar at Andover.

“I’m thinking about becoming an astronomer when I grow up, and I want to make the first space organization back at my home,” said Yusuf. “I’m also interested in dancing [so] I auditioned for Hypnotiq and I made it.”

She looks forward to experiencing different elements of American culture.

“I’m doing instructional swimming now. It’s challenging, but it’s fun too. I tried swimming across the pool today, and I actually did it… I really like the malls here…They are very different from back home. I haven’t gone to the cinema yet, but I’m very excited to do that. I also want to go to a theme park,” said Yusuf.

“I’m [also] excited about Halloween, because this is going to be my first [one] ever.”