Logo for: President's Alliance Higher Education & Immigration

Refugee students and alumni in the U.S. share their experience and perspective.

Current and former students from refugee backgrounds face a number of obstacles accessing higher education in the U.S. Here we share their experiences, their perspectives on the proposed university sponsorship initiative, and celebrate their contributions to U.S. campuses and communities.

“My name is Agathe Mwehu. I am originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but at a young age, my family and I moved to Zimbabwe as refugees. Living in the Tongogara Refugee Camp was never easy for me, my family, and my community. As a result of depression and a sense of hopelessness, many young adults end up doing drugs, dropping out of school, getting pregnant, and entering early marriage.

Growing up, I had a dream to go to college and be someone who can help my family and community. I never gave up on education– I completed high school in Tongogara Refugee Camp, and  I was one of the two girls in the camp who passed secondary school and was sponsored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to complete a 2-year program at a boarding school, 30 miles away from the camp. I also joined the United States Student Achievers Program (USAP),  a program that helps high achievers students from low-income backgrounds be matched with universities abroad. Through USAP, I was accepted at Wheaton College in Massachusetts,  which offers one scholarship to one refugee student from a war-torn country.

Since refugees are stateless and do not have legal documents, it was very difficult to get travel documents. However, with the help of the USAP, UNHCR, and Wheaton College I secured Refugee Travel Documents and a F1 Student Visa. When I was trying to get the visa and while I was traveling, authorities would ask for verification and question my travel documents because I did not have a passport. 

Coming to the US was a huge adjustment for me  because I had  lived my whole life in the refugee camp. Everything was startling to me, for example hearing students calling their professor by their first name. Eventually  I made friends with international students and  we would go study in the library, grab food, and hang out together. However, I did not want to limit myself to only international students like myself,  so I would force myself to come out of my comfort zone and interact with other students, faculty staff, and professors. For every class that I took, I would make an extra effort to get to know the professor and  go to their office hours often. I would try to make at least one friend in each class and I even joined a club on campus.

It took combined forces for me to be able to reach Wheaton College. Refugee students can succeed at universities but they need support to get the appropriate documentation  and ensure  a support system on campus so they feel safe and welcome.”

In her first year at Wheaton College, Agathe was also awarded a Davis Project for Peace , a $10,000 grant she will use to establish an information and recreation center for children in the Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe.