When Etienne Niyonsaba '17 crosses the Xfinity Center stage to receive his bachelor's degree, it will mark the end of a long journey that began in the Democratic Republic of Congo, spanned a childhood spent in a refugee camp in Tanzania, and continued with high school in Worcester and college at UMass Dartmouth.
He shared the details of his journey at this spring's Share the Dream Banquet sponsored by College Now, UMass Dartmouth's alternative admissions program.
Education: challenges & goals
In 1995, Etienne and his family embarked on a dangerous journey to escape civil war in the DRC, settling in a refugee camp in Tanzania for 12 years. Life in the camp was also a struggle, due to the prevalence of famine and disease: "Many people did not survive, thousands died, and many children became orphans.”
Despite the hardships, going to school was still imporant: "My parents were very stern about me being educated."
His earliest school days were spent outdoors, under a tree, with no tables, chairs, or books. "We listened to the teacher talking about different topics."
In 2006, Etienne's family was interviewed by U.S. Immigration Services officials, and in 2008, they were allowed to emigrate and settled in Worcester.
Adjusting to high school was a new challenge for Etienne, because he didn't speak any English. "I watched children’s cartoons, read children’s books in the library, and paid close attention to my English-speaking friends.”
With high school successfully completed, Etienne applied to UMass Dartmouth through College Now, which provides a strong network of academic support for students who are accepted to the program.
"The university has been my home for the last four-and-a-half years," he said. "The College Now program has been my extended family and a very important part of my journey."
Next steps: accountant and more
Etienne currently holds an accounting position at Fairlawn Rehabilitation Hospital Building in Worcester, building on the professional experience he gained through an internship at Digital Credit Union.
His journey may have been long, but Etienne "looks forward to what life has in store for me." He became a U.S. citizen in 2016 and plans to pursue a master's degree in accounting, earn his CPA certificate, and work for a public accounting firm.
A quote from Nelson Mandela continues to be his inspiration: "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world."