The subject of this interview is one of my former students from the SOS-Herman Gmeiner International College (HGIC) in Tema, Ghana.
Mebrahtu studied at HGIC during his 11th and 12th grade years of high school. He and five other students arrived in Ghana two weeks into the academic year and they hurridly tried to adapt to the culture, the language, and the West African heat.
One of my lasting memories of Mebrahtu is that he often forgot to bring his school supplies to class, and when I would ask the group to write in their journals he would fake it...with an invisible pencil. Sometimes I actually thought he was writing.
Mebrahtu grew up in an SOS Children's Village in Mekelle, Ethiopia. Mekelle is one of the northernmost villages in Ethiopia and it is an area known for beautiful terrain and equally beautiful people.
Now studying at Ripon College in Wisconsin, Mebrahtu has some fascinating things to say about his new life:
What thoughts, hopes, or fears did you have about leaving Africa for your university studies?
I first arrived in Chicago and I was really surprised by the airport especially by the security agents. I was surprised how Americans pay attention for the security of their country and their people. I understood not far from the airport that American people are friendly and ready to help. Since I came from a developing country I was almost impressed by everything I saw. When I first arrived at Ripon College, my heart was pumping, I was really scared.
What (so far) seems to be the biggest difference between life in Ethiopia and life in the United States?
Oh, hmmmm there is a very big difference if we look at the quality of life. I can start from the basic needs, water; most people do not drink clean water in Ethiopia. When I came here I realized the water I have been drinking for many years was somehow not clean.7000 people live at Ripon, but everything is full for the 7000 people, like roads, water, super markets, trains, etc.. I bet if it was in Ethiopia the government would have known them.
What do you miss most about Ethiopia?
I miss a lot of things, my family, my brother and my little sister and my lovely friends. I also miss “enjera” (Ethiopian food).
What do you (or would you) tell Americans about Ethiopia that they don’t seem to understand?
I am really surprised that a lot of people in my college do not know Ethiopia. Some of them only know that Ethiopia is one of the few poorest countries in the world. Moreover, most people think Ethiopia is in the same situation right now as it had been in the past 20-30 years. Almost most of my friends here do not know about our culture and languages. They were really surprised when I told them that we have a different calendar, and we celebrate Christmas one week after them. I really enjoy telling my friends different things about Ethiopia like our foods and cultures, the bads and the beautiful ones. Some of my friends had the chance to eat enjera and I am very glad they really liked it.
Why did you choose to come to the US for your university studies?
As far as I know US is one of the best countries in the world which have very good educational system. Moreover, it is also good to explore different country especially the developed countries like USA; as you would be able to see and understand how they become developed countries and the value they give to any job.
You have one classmate from HGIC with you in Wisconsin. Is it nice to have someone from home with whom you can commiserate?
Yeah, sometimes you miss home to the maximum and you really want to remember your friends and the crazy things you did together. So if you have someone you know very well, it will be easier for you to chat with about those things. Moreover, once a while it is inevitable to feel lonely, so it is really important to have someone from home with whom you can sympathize.
Do you have a class or a professor that really excites you?
Yeah, my history professor excites me. She knows I am from different country and English is my third language; so she calls me to her office once a week and helps me with my difficulties; and I like when she asks me every week “in what language are you thinking now?, Have you started thinking in English?”
What are your goals as a student?
My goal is to be a chemical engineer, now I am in liberal art college, to enjoy education from every direction, science, social sciences, religion, music etc.
I have a plan to finfish my education in US; I want to finish my first degree at Ripon College, and move to another university for masters. But before masters I will work in Ethiopia for one year, just for free to help my people. After finishing my masters, I will go back home and help my country with everything I can.