Armanda Ago desired to live the American dream. To her disappointment, her first experience was small-town snowy Rexburg.
Who is Armanda?
Armanda Ago, is a freshman studying construction management, a passionate artist and a nonmember from Elbasan, Albania.
Moving to America
Ago was excited to come to America, and she had high expectations.
“Albania’s a small country, and it’s not the best,” Ago said. “I wanted something bigger. I wanted more opportunities, and what is better than America right now? When I’m down, sometimes I just pull myself out and think, ‘I’m in America, so why should I feel stressed right now?’ I have come this far so I can go further.”
Coming to Rexburg, Ago didn’t face much of a culture shock. Unfortunately, Rexburg didn’t live up to her expectations.
“There’s not much to do here,” Ago said.
The biggest struggle for her is socialization and starting over with making new friends. Even though communication is different here, it doesn’t affect her social interaction. Ago is selective when choosing friends. She wants someone with whom she can be comfortable.
“It takes a special someone for me to call them a friend,” Ago said.
She misses her friends in Albania and is still in touch with them, but it’s not the same with them being in another country.
Ago loves and misses her family immensely.
“I talk to them every day, three times a day,” Ago said. “I miss them, and I miss the atmosphere in my house.”
Most people in Albania don’t take advantage of their artistic abilities because they focus on working and providing for their families. Her mom is artistic but never pursued her artistic abilities because her family was her first priority.
“My parents were more focused on just working and trying to provide for us,” Ago said.
She respected her parents’ decision on sending her to America and understood how important this decision would be. Once Ago got the confirmation that her parents could send her to America to get an education, she was overjoyed and grateful.
Her parents encouraged her to come to America and told her they didn’t want her to worry because they would help her get there.
Being a student on campus?
Ago started school at BYU-Idaho in January. She found BYU-I through her cousin who is a student.
She aspires to get all A’s in her classes and has confidence that she will be successful. Ago would love to pursue a career in construction management or civil engineering. She is a logical thinker and has a passion for math and physics.
“I did great my first semester, so I feel good,” Ago said.
Ago prefers to be on campus for her classes instead of Zoom.
“Being on campus is fun because you can interact with other people,” Ago said. “It’s difficult to interact with people over Zoom or online classes.”
One of Ago’s favorite things about BYU-I is the professors. She has been thrilled with the professors she has had.
“I love them,” Ago said. “They are so nice. I feel stressed, and when I enter class, and they’re all smiling, I don’t know why I stressed.”
Along with being a student, Ago is currently working the night shift as a custodian at the BYU-Idaho Center. She loves riding the machines to clean the gym floors.
Ago is grateful for her job and the money she makes, but she works night shifts and doesn’t usually get off until 2 a.m. This has taken a toll on her sleep and homework schedule.
Luckily, Ago has an Albanian coworker who helps make her job more fun and enjoyable.
“It’s not draining because of her,” Ago said.
Being a nonmember at BYU-I
Even though Ago isn’t a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she has an open mind while attending BYU-I.
“You believe in something that I don’t, and I understand your point of view,” Ago said. “I think I understand it more because I’m learning about it now. But I just don’t feel the same way. So it’s just different, but I don’t see it as weird.”
Everything seems normal for Ago besides the fact that classes begin with a prayer. It was surprising to her at first.
“People don’t judge me because I’m a nonmember,” Ago said. “It’s pretty nice being here. When I learn something, I try and ask questions to make me understand better.”
BYU-I versus school in Albania
In Albania, the college Ago attended was different than BYU-I. There was a building for each major, and students didn’t move from one building to another. Instead, the students moved up and down between floors to get to class. Moving between buildings at BYU-I was tiring for her at first.
“I was so confused when I first entered the campus,” Ago said. “My cousin was like, ‘You need to walk 15 minutes to get to the other building.’ And I was like ‘What?”
She likes that Rexburg is a small town with not much going on.
“It gives me a calm feeling because it’s not busy,” Ago said.
One thing that has helped Ago feel more comfortable about living in Rexburg is having an Albanian roommate.
“That was the most fun part,” Ago said. “I didn’t know how much I needed it.”
What makes Armanda an artist?
When Ago was 13, she drew something at school that her classmates loved by tracing over another drawing. So it wasn’t an original.
“I didn’t want to think that my best drawing would be just a tracing of something, so I wanted to do my own drawings better than that picture,” Ago said. “That’s how it started for me. That was a breaking point where I was like, ‘I’m not going to trace anymore; I can do this on my own.'”
She loves animation and gets her inspiration from animated movies or TV series. She takes what she likes from a character and re-creates it to make it her own. She loves to draw male characters.
“I’m attracted to animated guys more; I feel like they’re so pretty,” Ago said.
When she finishes drawing an animated guy, she thinks to herself, “Why don’t you exist?“
When it comes to her art, Ago said that she still has room for growth. Ago is confident that her hard work and determination will pay off.
“If I believe in something, then I know it’s going to be true,” Ago said.
She features her artwork here