Ugandan student comes to South to prepare for college

Eleanor Noble, Staff Writer

The streets of Uganda are almost always overflowing with a seemingly endless number of people. It’s messy and hectic, but that’s what lets you know you’re alive, according to new South student and senior, Ruth Fitsum, who immigrated from Uganda this year.

“The streets here in America are just so bare and lonely. Ugandan streets are busy and sometimes inconvenient, but being surrounded like that is also very comforting,” Fitsum said about her home in Uganda.”That was the one thing that really shocked me.”

Fitsum moved to the US from Uganda this summer before the school year started, leaving her friends and family behind.

“I always knew I wanted to go to college abroad. In Africa it would feel like home, but the standards for secondary education there wouldn’t be as high as the standards in America,” Fitsum explained.

The decision to leave early was a difficult one, but Fitsum and her family thought it would be best if she spent one year in America before going to college.

“One of the hardest parts of leaving was knowing I’d miss senior year with all of my friends,” Fitsum said about the experiences she would miss, adding, “the rugby games and sadly prom too.”

She attended a very small international private school that followed British curriculum.  The student body was tiny with a class size of only about 40.

“It was very small so the community there was amazing. I knew everybody and we were all very connected.” When it came to the uniforms though, Fitsum stated, “they were ugly. They were really, really ugly.”

“My parent’s biggest concern was the culture shock I’d have after moving to a new place,” Fitsum said.

Although saying  goodbye a year early was hard, Fitsum explained that her parents knew she would be leaving in a year regardless.

Fitsum stated, “I just wanted to get a head start and become accustomed to the culture. By being here a year before college I’m getting all the requirements and I understand the admissions process for college.”

The journey itself was very difficult. Besides being swept away from everything familiar to her, Fitsum experienced many other hurdles during her travels.

“My flight got canceled so I had to spend an extra night in Ethiopia and an extra night in Amsterdam. The entire experience was very overwhelming and scary,” Fitsum explained.

After finally landing in Minneapolis she met up with a young couple that would soon take the role as her new family for the year.

The couple Fitsum lives with had worked and lived in Uganda before moving to Minneapolis. “My dad supervised them at his job in Uganda. They all had a very close relationship,” Fitsum said. It worked out perfectly that the couple was living in Minneapolis at the same time Fitsum wanted to come, and they gladly offered to take her in.

“It’s very nice getting to experience family life in the US. They take me on family trips and we go to lots of places in the city,” Fitsum explained, adding that she gets to experience the culture in a full family setting. “If I went to the US just for college I wouldn’t be exposed to nearly as much of the real American experience.”

Summer passed quickly and finally it was time for the first day of school.  It wasn’t just Fitsum’s first day at a new school; it was her first day at a new school in an entirely new country. She admits it wasn’t an easy transition.

“South is huge, I got lost a lot, and I didn’t get a ton of support when I first started,” said Fitsum. Because she isn’t a part of an official exchange student program, she doesn’t receive nearly as much support as students that are.

“I have a big opportunity to slack off if I wanted to. School and getting your work done here is a very self-motivated process,” Fitsum said.

In her old Ugandan school, work would constantly be checked and missing an assignment would result in being called out in front of the entire class.

“In Uganda everybody knew if you didn’t do your work. Here you’re in charge of yourself,” Fitsum explained. “You can slack off or skip a class, but then that’s your own problem later. That adjustment was hard to really accept and take in.”

The social aspect of such a large school was equally daunting. “Occasionally people helped me out, but it was hard to meet new people at first. I completely understand that most of you guys [South Students] have known each other since freshman year, but that just made it even harder to really fit in,” Fitsum said, explaining that she has now made many new friends, especially with other new incoming seniors.

One of the most problematic things for Fitsum is dealing with the limited contact she now has with her family. Although they Skype, talk on the phone, and write, the feeling of homesickness does occasionally bother Fitsum.

Although the choice to come to America was an ambitious an d challenging shift for her, Fitsum said she has no regrets. “It’ll help me get into college so I can learn about health, biology, and chemistry. Ideally I’d go to the University of Minnesota and then back to Africa to help contribute to fixing the healthcare system there. My passion is helping others,” Fitsum explained.

In Uganda she was part of a student organization called Care that mainly focused its efforts on aiding orphanages and one of Fitsum’s favorites: “Beads for Life,” an organization that provides Ugandan women with an education as well as a steady source of income by teaching them to create jewelry out of recycled paper.

“I love helping others and I want to be able to make a real difference in Uganda. Without a good education  there’s no way I could do this,” explained Fitsum about the benefits of staying in the United States.

“It was and still is a hard process, but honestly? Coming here was definitely for the best.”