Hardin-Simmons University has students from many cultures and backgrounds and we actively strive to celebrate our diversity. One way that we can celebrate diversity is by learning from our students’ stories.
Moses Zirimwabagabo is a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Rwanda, a small country in East Africa. Arriving at a new school in a new town can be overwhelming for everyone, but it is a completely different challenge when someone is also coming from a foreign country.
“[The transition] was difficult, but I feel like it goes through different phases, like different steps… the first step is that I’m excited to be in the United States. I’m coming to a dream country to get an education in, so I was super excited,” Zirimwabagabo said. There were feelings of excitement, but there were also struggles that Zirimwabagabo faced.
It can be difficult to imagine all of the different feelings surrounding a transition as big as moving countries because most college students in the U.S. do not have this experience. “My first semester was really hard, in academia, in social skills… even back home, you want to talk to [your family], but it’s a different time zone. They were at work or asleep … that kind of loneliness [is hard],” Zirimwabagabo said. Moving into college is a big transition for anyone, but there were certainly struggles unique to Zirimwabagabo’s experience.
Cultural differences were also something that Zirimwabagabo recognized and accepted as part of the challenge that lay before him. “Back home, you can’t even hold eye contact with a professor; it’s disrespectful. Even sometimes now when I’m having a conversation with [someone], I tend to find myself looking aside because I’m like, ‘I don’t want to disrespect them,’” Zirimwabagabo said. There were cultural differences both socially and in terms of academics. “We do have a different education system. I’ve never done any multiple-choice exams until I took the SAT. Having to adjust to schoolwork… was hard,” Zirimwabagabo said.
While there were parts of transitioning into college and a new country that were certainly extremely difficult, being a part of clubs and organizations was something that ended up making the transition easier.
“Especially someone coming from a different culture to HSU, [being involved in clubs and organizations] helped make my transition smooth,” Zirimwabagabo said. “It helped me get to know about America more, and it helped my relationship skills because we got to work with a lot of people.” Zirimwabagabo has been involved in International Student Fellowship, the Holland School of Science and Mathematics research society and Alpha Phi Omega during his time at Hardin-Simmons.
Additionally, Zirimwabagabo has found the community at Hardin-Simmons to be one he really enjoys. “It was easy because people were so approachable, and that’s one of the things every international student loves,” Zirimwabagabo said. Coming to a new country with completely new people would likely be intimidating at first, so feeling welcomed says a lot about the people and community found at Hardin-Simmons.
The community has also pushed Zirimwabagabo to strengthen his faith, a change he has clearly noticed.
“I think my faith was more applicable than what I knew back home because the challenge with faith is… if you’re surrounded with Christians and everything is perfect, there is nothing to change or nothing new to learn. But here you can learn about people, you learn how to live and love people. So I would say my faith really came to life when I was here,” Zirimwabagabo said. Faith plays a great role in the Hardin-Simmons University experience and education, so it is encouraging to hear how students have been impacted by it.
Moses Zirimwabagabo has faced a multitude of experiences, challenges and learning opportunities, but it is evident that he is grateful for them all. Gaining insight from an experience like coming to college from a different country is invaluable. Having so many diverse students on campus is a blessing and is something that makes Hardin-Simmons unique. If you have the opportunity to talk with an international student, be sure not to ignore it. Conversations like these might not be easy to come by, but they can open your mind to understanding and loving your neighbor.