“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
- Wendell Berry
Olivia Muwereza is a determined and independent adventurer. She has a charming smile and a true gift for poetry and kindness. In person, she is so quiet and so still her fearlessness and her intellectual intensity are easy to overlook. But Olivia is, in the words of her high school biology teacher, “single-minded” in her pursuit of knowledge.
Raised in an SOS Village in Uganda, Olivia attended high school in Ghana and is now a first year student at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Amazingly, she’s already learning Chinese in preparation for her next undertaking.
What thoughts, hopes, or fears did you have about leaving Africa for your university studies?
I am usually a resilient person when it comes to moving away from home but I still had a few concerns about moving to the USA. I was basically worried about the social aspect of College Life in America. I thought I wouldn’t have people to hang out with since I am very introverted and I am also not used to partying or going out. When you are in high school you think this is what students do in college especially in the USA. However I was glad to find people of various races who related to me. Besides I have a roommate who enjoys going out but she still respects my decision not to go out with her and she has never considered it ‘uncool’ or anything of that sort.
What were your first thoughts/impressions upon your arrival in Michigan?
I might be wrong but I thought people here like meeting foreigners. Every time I told them where I am from, they would be like, “You are from Uganda? That’s so cool!” As far as I am concerned almost everyone I met was nice to me so I felt very comfortable in Kalamazoo.
Thus far, what has been the most difficult challenge in adapting to life in North America? (Food? Language? Culture? Etc)
At first I thought the food was fine but after one week I just couldn’t eat anything in the Cafeteria. The fruits and vegetables tasted different and I was tired of having fries for every meal. I am slowly adapting to the food since I am going to be here for four years. Another thing is that I feel like Americans speak really fast so I sometimes feel bad when I ask my friends to repeat themselves over and over. Michigan is also very cold! What makes it worse is that people here are like “oh it’s going to get worse.”
What (so far) seems to be the biggest difference between life in Uganda (or Ghana) and life in the United States?
I will say the weather because it gets so cold here unlike in Uganda and Ghana. The time difference is also quite huge so most of the time I have to wait until 2:00 am in the morning or wake very early to call home.
Do you think the experience of living and studying in Ghana has helped you adapt to living outside of your own country?
Yes, I believe going to Ghana was good preparation for me. In Ghana I learnt how to deal with homesickness so even though I miss home, it’s not that bad. The fact that I met new people in Ghana also taught me to relate to people from various parts of the world. I was very shy before I went to Ghana so I am glad I can easily pick conversations with anyone I happen to find myself with. In addition, the academic program in Ghana has also enabled me to stay on top of my assignments in college. I feel like I do not struggle much to meet my deadlines relative to some of my peers.
What do you miss most about Uganda/Ghana?
The food and the music!
What do you (or would you) tell Americans about Uganda that they don’t seem to understand?
I think some Americans have what I would call a ‘stereotypical’ view of Africa which I would blame the media for. My roommate for instance thought that back home there are wild animals such as zebra’s monkeys etc moving around everywhere! So I explained that yes we do have those but they are not found everywhere. So what I always emphasize to my peers is that there is more to Uganda than what the media says. I would like them understand how a normal day is like for certain people in Uganda and why it is like that.
Why did you choose to come to the US for your university studies?
I chose to come to the US for university because there are not so many liberal arts schools in Africa. It’s like you have to know what you want to do before you go to university at home. I think I have a lot of things I am academically interested in and I simply couldn’t imagine myself combining all of them in one area of study. So I thought the system in the USA best suited the kind of student I am.
Were you always motivated to succeed as a student? If not, who/what inspired you?
I was not motivated as such until I joined junior high school. I was not a weak student but I cared only about the subjects that I liked and I succeeded at them very well. I did not like math and I never made an effort to perform better at it so in my national exams, I got distinctions in all the three subjects I liked and I got a pass in math. This affected my final points in the end. So in junior high school I decided to do my best in every subject including math. I think this new attitude contributed to my acceptance into SOS HGIC in Ghana as well as my excellence there.
You were the only student from Uganda in your HGIC class, and now you are the only SOS girl in your class to travel to the US for university studies. Do you consider yourself brave? What gives you the strength to accept such big challenges and adventures?
Brave!! Wow to be honest I also ask myself the same questions. I am like “how come its only me?” But I would say that I am not afraid of being different as long as I am doing something that is good for me and it also makes me happy. I understand that this is all part of the learning process and it’s also part of growing up. I am also a Christian so I think God also has a role to play in all this.
You are a religious person; have you found a Christian community in Kalamazoo? Are there any differences in the way people worship in America and the way people worship in Uganda or Ghana?
Yeah there is Christian fellowship every Wednesday on campus so I get to meet other Christian’s students and it’s nice to know people from different countries who share your faith. I would say the manner of worship is similar though the songs differ.
Do you have a class or a professor that really excites you?
I like my chemistry professor. His name is Dr. Bartz. He is very understanding and he has introduced me to various people who can help me in the subject. One time he said to me “It’s not as easy as you think, Olivia, you came across the ocean to learn from me and you have to get it right.”
What are your goals as a student?
I want to make my time away from home very meaningful. I intend to take advantage of the opportunities here. I am learning Chinese and I want to study abroad in China. I also intend to challenge myself by taking courses that I like not only those that I can easily excel in.
“International bright young thing
Now you know for sure that you make the world swing
International bright young thing
Make it swing”
– Jesus Jones