Opportunities and Enjera: Ethiopian Students at UCU

by Katharina Luckner 

What do you know about Ethiopia? Take a minute and try to answer that question. If all you can come up with is the general idea of a country somewhere in the Horn of Africa, don’t worry, you are the norm. If you have a faint memory of an Olympian runner, you already know more than most of the people around you. 

This is what Mohammed, Hawi, Diribe, and Kasehun have found out after six weeks on campus. They are the pioneers of a new exchange program withWollegaUniversityinNekemte,Ethiopia. Exchanges are rare at African universities, so all of us have been given the unique opportunity to ask questions about a country that google doesn’t have an answer to. Yet, for them it must be an even greater adventure: Leaving their country for the first time in their lives.

So far, it has been a great experience, but also a difficult one. They encountered new technologies, strange foods and means of transportation (“So many bikes!”) and a whole new climate (first snow!). Fortunately, UCU made it easy for them. Their intro week families helped to get them started here and they made friends from all over the world. Mohammed says the past weeks have been so full of experiences he will never forget them. UCU even starts to feel almost like home.

People surprised them with their open minds and tolerance, but also with their interest. Though only a small number of students actually knew things about Ethiopia, everybody was keen to learn more from them.

The active participation in class and in the campus community was something to adjust to. The class atmosphere at UCU is formed by students and teachers equally. “In Ethiopia our professors are very distant, we almost fear them,” says Hawi.

They were also stunned by the freedom UCU students enjoy on campus. At Ethiopian Universities, a bar on campus is unheard of. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited, guys and girls are living in separate dorms.

“Adjusting to all of those differences is a challenge and opportunity alike”, says Mohammed. He wants to take new ideas back toEthiopiaand try to incorporate his experiences into university life there. He would especially like introduce the UCU spirit to the relationships between teachers and students.

The one thing that needs to be introduced here, so the unanimous opinion after praising UCU, is Enjera. After their families and friends this special Ethiopian grain is the second dearest thing they miss from home. And while they can try to replace the family for each other, the grain is nowhere to be found.

“If we could have bread made from Enjera here, this could truly be home,” they say.

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