Representing Africa: Five African students share where they came from and where they're going

Written by: 
Courtney Bow Nielsen

REBECCA UDOH

Junior from Nigeria studying business management

HOW DID YOU FIND THE CHURCH?

“I joined the church when my uncle who was in Canada came back after getting his Ph.D. He came back to Nigeria and brought the Book of Mormon. I remember going to his house and seeing the Book of Mormon. He always encouraged us to look inside, but I never did. I thought he belonged to a cult called Mormon. I remember that’s what interested me. I thought, ‘Yeah, you’re a cult member. I’m going to expose you.’ But when I opened the book, I learned that it talked about Jesus Christ just like the Bible. I learned that it wasn’t evil. It was actually really good. I investigated the church for three years before I actually joined. When I joined, I was 15 or 16. When I was in high school, I used to be so rough, but the Book of Mormon and the missionaries helped me change.”

HOW DID YOU END UP COMING TO BYU-HAWAII?

“Well, I served my mission in another part of Nigeria. My parents joined the church while I was on my mission and so did my brothers and sisters. After my mission, my mission president sent me a message to see how I was doing and he sent me some applications to BYU. I applied, but I was rejected by BYU-Hawaii because they said Africa was not one of the target areas for the school. So I applied to Provo and went there. But then Robert Gay from the Seventy decided to sponsor me, and I went to Southern Virginia University and I graduated with my bachelor’s in biology. After my graduation, I wanted to keep studying. I went home to Nigeria for a break and then tried coming back to the United States, but I couldn’t because of my Visa. So I had to stay home for two to three years. But then it worked out and I ended up here.”

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AFTER GRADUATION?

“Well, back home I got a job in a hospital with my biology degree, but that’s not really what I want to do. I had a personal experience where I lost my best friend. That’s when I felt like if I couldn’t use my degree to help anyone, then it doesn’t mean anything. I thought business would be a good fit for me, so I’m trying to advance myself and combine this degree in business with my biology degree and do medical sales. I would love to own my own business one day.”

 

HIBA ARKOH

Junior from Ghana studying hospitality and tourism management and information technology

WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH THE CHURCH?

“Well, I’m not a member. Because I went to Moroni High School, I went to seminary and institute and I stayed in the dormitory, so I was just like a member. People called me a ‘dry’ member. In my last year of high school, I was elected student body president. I was really blessed to have that opportunity because it opened up a lot of doors for me. I go to church because I’ve been going for almost 10 years already.”

HOW DID YOU END UP COMING TO BYU-HAWAII?

“My family moved to Kiribati when I was 12. I went to Moroni High School (an LDS school) for like six years, and they give a scholarship to the top three students. I got the scholarship and that’s what brought me here.”

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT BYU-HAWAII?

“The students are really friendly. Ever since high school, everyone is like too friendly. Everyone is like family. You get to know tons of people in the dormitory. So far all of my roommates are really good. One of them is my co-worker. She’s trying to convert me, but I don’t know. She served her mission and she’s like, ‘Okay, so now we have to try and baptize you. I’ll teach you whatever you want to learn.’ She’s really nice. I also like the Honor Code. I like being in a place where there’s a standard.”

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AFTER GRADUATION?

“When I’m finished I might go to school again. I’m trying to get degrees in a few things because I have a dream of helping people in Africa. Even right now we’re working on a project [with BYUH Enactus] where we [went] to the Congo in December. We [helped] women who have ideas but don’t have the resources, so we’re helping them with crowdfunding. If we can, we’ll get them the resources to help out. I’m planning on going to BYU Provo after graduation for another degree or master’s. I’m still deciding.”

 

EPHREM SMITH

Sophomore from Ethiopia studying business management and HTM

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU GROWING UP?

“I was born in Ethiopia, and then I was raised in an orphanage with about 400-to-500 kids. I was very blessed to have been adopted into an American family. The first adoption failed because it wasn’t a healthy atmosphere, but then I was able to go to a foster home near Reno, Nevada. I lived in a foster home for about a year, and then this family invited me into their home with love and care. I was then adopted when I was about 17. I’m deeply grateful for my family.”

HOW DID YOU END UP COMING TO BYU-HAWAII?

“I went on my mission when I was 18 years old. Out of all the schools there was BYU-Idaho, BYU Provo and BYU-Hawaii, which were all options. I didn’t know a lot about BYU-Hawaii because it’s an island and I wanted to go to an island, but I was thinking about going to Saint Thomas (the Virgin Islands), … but BYU-Hawaii was an LDS school so I decided to go here. It wasn’t an easy journey because I had to meet their standard as a domestic student, so there was a higher expectation to get into school here. I went to Utah Valley University first to set up a blueprint to come here. Coming here wasn’t easy. I had to work.”

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AFTER GRADUATION?

“Initially I was thinking I want to own my own restaurant, but right now I’m shifting over to wanting to manage resorts. I definitely need to work hard to get to that level. My vision is to help those individuals who feel hopeless especially in foster care or orphanages. I want to help in any way I can. That can be through donating through Boys & Girls Clubs, anyway I can help. I believe that everybody deserves to be happy and deserves to enjoy life.”

 

RUTH BEREHE

Freshman from Ethiopia studying mathematics

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU GROWING UP?

“I was born in Ethiopia. I grew up there my whole life. Living in Ethiopia and living in the United States are very different. Here you do your own thing, but there it’s more with friends; like your friends are a big part of your life. It’s very different. Each house back home is connected. Sometimes I joke that there are no secrets between your neighbors because you can always hear them. There are a lot of languages in Ethiopia. The main language is Amharic and we speak that in my family.”

HOW DID YOU END UP COMING TO BYU-HAWAII?

“I was in Utah before. I got a scholarship when I was in high school and then I just took the chance. I graduated from high school in Utah and then went to Weber State for a semester and then transferred here. It was hard moving to Utah because I’m really close with my mom. She’s like my best friend, so it was hard not having her there, but now it’s better. I haven’t seen them since I was 16 or 17. I call my family a lot though. I was even talking to my mom last night.”

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AFTER GRADUATION?

“I’m not actually staying here. I’m staying for maybe one more year, but I’m not sure. I’m just getting my generals or associate’s degree and then transferring to BYU Provo. My dream job is as an aerospace engineer. It might be years and years to get where I want to go, but we’ll see. That’s why I came to America – to learn and follow my dream. There’s no way I could get a job in Ethiopia after studying aerospace engineering. We don’t have NASA in my country. I love my country, but my goal is to get a job here and do humanitarian work to help my home.”

 

PRINCE OWUSU

Senior from Ghana studying political science

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU GROWING UP?

“I come from a family of 10, and so with my mom and dad, we are 12. My dad was the one who took me [to the orphanage] when I was 10 years old and said, ‘We want you to care for our son,’ which was crazy. I was the only one of my siblings they took, but I didn’t believe I had to fight with my dad in doing that. I never questioned them as to why they took me. It’s a rough story, but I think it was all part of the process. Everything about me changed when I went to the orphanage. I loved it. It was one family. When I go home, I don’t feel like I belong to any place but the orphanage home. That is where I spend my time because that is where I feel like life started for me. The Lord knew what he was doing.”

HOW DID YOU FIND THE CHURCH?

“I found the church through a member who had studied over here in the states. He owned a school. His name is Abraham Fokuo. I consider him my father. He said if you want to be like me, the key is the church. Living with him as a father, he taught that it is part of your recommendation as a man to go on a mission. So even throughout the process, you have the mindset that you’re going to serve a mission. Most of us under him went on a mission. Even though it was a big fight between him and my family, I went on my mission to the Ivory Coast Cote d’Ivoire Mission from 2010-2012. I didn’t tell my mom or dad, and by the time they knew, I was already out in the mission field. I never regretted that decision to go.”

HOW DID YOU END UP COMING TO BYU-HAWAII?

A friend introduced me to the school. Initially, I wanted to go to Idaho or Provo, but then I met a friend in the Missionary Training Center because I was a teacher over at the MTC in Ghana for three and a half years. She said that BYU-Hawaii could shape me well. I think she understood my perspective of the future wanting to help people and changing society and stuff. I’m more of an activist so she said that’s the main reason why BYU-Hawaii was created. So she helped me throughout the process until I got accepted. It was hard to get an I-WORK scholarship because they were clear that their boundaries didn’t cover Africa, so I had to fight for it. They realized that I deserve to be here so they gave it to me, and I’ve been grateful for that.”

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO AFTER GRADUATION?

“I want to go get my master’s in international relations for now. I want to be an ambassador. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I know it’ll work out. That is my main goal. I want to work with the government, but I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be behind the scenes working to change certain things in the government like corruption. I want to make sure things are done right. There are so many people with degrees and so I feel like I need to do more than just have a degree. It doesn’t matter what certificate you have to make a difference, but with the state in which my country and many African countries are in right now, I feel like I need to get more education in order to be on a level to change things.”

Date Published: 
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Last Edited: 
Saturday, January 20, 2018

NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Jan. 2018 print issue.