This interview introduces Alem, a passionate scientist and mathematician from Mekele, Ethiopia. Raised and educated within the SOS Village of Mekele, Alem is funny, ambitious, and kind. He has an incisive mind and an open heart.
What excites you about math and science?
Both the theoretical and the practical applications of math and science have always fascinated me. Through Math and Science I was able to understand the logic behind the nature of the universe and how we can make the best out of it. I have always been very curious about why things behave the way they are and science was always there to provide me with satisfying answers.
What thoughts, hopes, or fears did you have about leaving Africa for your university studies?
The idea of coming to the US to attend college education has been my lifelong dream; so you can imagine how excited I was about leaving Africa for University studies. I knew this could be a major life change that could shape the course of my life and I was so keen to make the best out of this golden opportunity.
However, it was not still easy to leave home, family and friends. And there is also the fear of culture shock. But I was able to embrace my fears by realizing how leaving home can mean new adventures and new friends.
Thus far, what has been the most difficult challenge of adapting to life in North America? (Food? Language? Culture? Etc)
Adapting to life in the US was not as much a challenge, not at least to the extent I expected. I found it fairly easy to integrate with the society as the people are used to tolerating differences in culture and language. Well, I, of course, encountered a bit of culture shock but was not that difficult to handle.
What (so far) seems to be the biggest difference between life in Ethiopia and life in the United States?
One of the major differences is the extent of complexity of the society. Here in the US, life is highly influenced by technology and the society is somewhat sophisticated and more organized. On the other hand, life in Ethiopia is a very simple one in its kind and the system lacks organization. And, Ethiopians give more value to social life than their American counter parts.
What do you miss most about Ethiopia?
I miss my family and my best friends, who never failed to make me smile every day.
What do you (or would you) tell Americans about Ethiopia that they don’t seem to understand?
Not just Americans but most people of the world seem to have a wrong perception of Ethiopia. They usually perceive it as a model of war, famine and draught, which was the picture of the country two or three decades ago. While I can’t deny the fact that Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world; I can’t also negate the fact that my country is one of the fastest growing countries and one of the most stable, peaceful countries which could be a model to many African Nations.
Why did you choose to come to the US for your university studies?
I choose to study in the US because of the Educational system of the country. I have been specially intrigued by the prevalence of liberal arts curriculum in most of the US Colleges, which is not the case in many countries including my country Ethiopia. I always wanted my college life to be a time to acquire diverse knowledge and experience from different endeavors, not just to be trained for a career. I wanted to be taught the skill of learning itself and through the liberal arts education that many US Colleges offer I can have all this. And, thanks to God I have already started to taste the fruits of this kind of education.
Were you always motivated to succeed as a student? If not, who/what inspired you?
I would say I was, because education was the only way I could see the bright future, the way to fantasize my dreams. And my passion to turn my dreams to reality motivated me to succeed as a student.
What are your goals as a student?
My goal as a student is to make the best out of my four year college life. I want the next four years to be times when I will be well trained to tackle challenges and obstacles. I also aim to pass at least three or four Actuarial exams during my 4 year period.