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 a proposed university sponsorship initiative , and celebrate their contributions to U.S. campuses and communities.
My name is Elisee Tuyishime, I am majoring in biology at Oakwood University in Alabama. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I fled to neighboring country Rwanda in 1996 at a very young age because of the ethnic wars that ravaged our region. Since then, I lived in a refugee camp where life was tough because my family could not provide everything I needed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Organizations were the only organizations that provided us food and shelter to survive. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) paid for my schooling and I had the rare opportunity to graduate from high school. In 2017, I was lucky to be selected for resettlement in the United States of America. Less than 1% of refugees worldwide are resettled. The process lasted three years and in September 2019 I moved to the US after 23 years in a refugee camp.
Accessing Education in the US
I had always dreamed of becoming a medical doctor, but I was always limited by lack of financial means. When I arrived in the US I did the equivalence exam of my high school diploma then applied for student financial aid that allowed me to enroll at Oakwood University. The student financial aid is not enough at all to cover all expenses as a full-time student living on campus, therefore I am required to apply for a significant loan in order to study and I am worried that this loan may become a burden that I cannot bear alone.
After arriving at Oakwood University, as someone who was helped by charities for a long time, I mobilized my fellow students to raise some funds and pay college tuition for some of our fellow refugee students in Africa. These students were fortunate enough to graduate from high school but due to lack of employment and their inability to attend college, many of them are now addicted to drug abuse and various other bad habits. So far, seven of them are attending college and have the hope of a better future. I am also interested in helping my peer students by creating study groups so that we all can achieve more. I am grateful to be in the US pursuing higher education.