Peter Khai is living a life he once thought was out of reach.
Born in Myanmar, Khai fled in 2007, after facing persecution as an ethnic minority. He met his wife while they were both working as interpreters in Malaysia, and applied for refugee status with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In January 2013, they arrived in the United States, settling in Loma Linda.
In Myanmar, going to school after turning 30 is something that just isn't done, Khai says, and once in the U.S., he knew he was going to give higher education a try.
"I went to Crafton Hills and said, 'One day, I will go to this college,'" he said. "This is not just school. It's a place where I could really focus on my studies."
Khai is about to graduate with highest honors and associates degrees in Health Science and Multiple Sciences, and has been accepted to nursing school at Loma Linda University, California Baptist University, and Cal State San Bernardino.
"My childhood dream was to become a doctor," he said. "I was in a remote village where there's no health care. All we used was humble medication. A lot of people are losing their lives because they can't go to a hospital and do not have any knowledge of health care, and they die from diabetes and hypertension and cardiovascular disease."
When Khai first came to the United States, he worked as a certified nursing assistant, which "really fulfilled my dreams," he said. "That is a very difficult job, and I helped a lot of people. That motivated me more and more to go into the health care field."
He chose nursing because he will finish school faster than if he studied to become a doctor, and he wants to be around for his 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
"My children will see that if our dad can do it, why can't we," Khai said. "They have more opportunities here, they go to school and learn and they have a foundation."
While at Crafton, he studied full-time while working to support his family, registering for at least 12 units each semester and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. It was important "to get As no matter what," Khai says, and he fought hard for his good grades, spending long hours in the Crafton library and working with his peers at the tutoring center. He started at the lowest level of math and English classes, and worked his way up, never missing a class and sometimes going without sleep to get all of his assignments finished.
"I love this school because the professors are supportive and they talk to me about how to achieve and have success in my life," he said. "They are always helpful. Crafton is the most beautiful school that I've ever been to."
Khai was also part of Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), a program that provides special services for students due to financial need and language differences.
"Without EOPS, I would not be able to achieve this success," he said. "Their counselors are awesome, and they put me on the right path. They gave me a book grant so that I did not have to worry about book expenses, and they gave me a graduation cap and gown so I did not have to buy it myself. They are the ones who acknowledge my achievement and made me who I am right now."
Khai considers himself just a "normal" guy, who is enjoying the independence he now has in the United States.
"I know that freedom means anyone can be anything," he said. "That's why I love the USA. When I passed my 20s I thought 'OK, I'm done,' but then I came to the U.S. and there is the saying, 'It's never too late to go to school.' I am proud I can be the person I wanted to be."