Jamie Brinamen

Jamie Brinamen shares what she learned about Jeff Mugongo of Rwanda during a public presentation of the class interviews.Record photo by Kerri Rempp

Several Chadron State Social Work students were able to experience life through the eyes of another recently, thanks to a class project assigned by assistant professor Richard Kenney.

Kenney wanted his students to learn interview techniques while also exploring a new culture.

Most of the students interviewed international students at CSC, learning about their home countries and what brought them to America for their studies.

For Michaela Weverka, the assignment connected her with her roots. She interviewed Dominika Senkerikova of the Czech Republic. Weverka’s great-grandmother was from Czechoslovakia, and after interviewing Senkerikova, she visited with her grandmother who showed her the Ellis Island certificate for her great-grandmother.

Up until her assignment, Weverka knew very little about her heritage beyond eating kolaches. After talking with Senkerikova for three hours, she’s much more knowledgeable about it and said it will likely inspire more conversations with her family about their roots.

Jamie Brinamen interviewed Jeff Mugongo of Rwanda, a country the size of Maryland with 11.2 million residents. The country was trapped in a brutal civil war in the 1990s, Brinamen learned, in which one million people were killed in 100 days. Mugongo’s family fled to a refugee camp before moving to the United States when he was in seventh grade.

“His mom is amazing. I haven’t met her, but I admire her,” Brinamen said, noting all that she went through to keep her family safe and provide them with an opportunity for a better life.

Embassy workers helped the family settle in the U.S., and one day Mugongo wants to return to Rwanda as a social worker to help those still in his native country.

Mugongo attended Brinamen’s presentation and said the process helped remind him where he came from.

“It’s really interesting hearing your life from another person,” he said.

Omar Dabliz of Lebanon struggled in his studies in Lebanon and came to the U.S. to play basketball. Annie Dillman, who interviewed him, said she learned that health care in Lebanon is more developed than she believed. Education there is free until children are 14-years-old. While Dillman has traveled out of the country – a trip to El Salvador – the class assignment reminded her not to take for granted the many advantages we have in America.

Gavan Archibald of Jamaica is studying for his master’s degree at CSC. His native country is smaller than the state of Nebraska but has a population of 2 million more people, said Brittney Anderson, who interviewed him. Jamaicans are blunt and tend to say what they think, she said, and aren’t as worried about what others think of them as Americans are. Archibald wants to stay in the U.S. because there are more opportunities for him here.

Anna Boll learned all about the cultural meaning behind the Day of the Dead in her interview with Eli Garza of Mexico. Garza was actually born in Nebraska and moved to Texas near the Mexican border when he was young. He lived in Mexico from the ages of 14-16 and still returns there on school breaks to visit family.

Residents of Mexico view America as a land of better opportunities but also a place that comes with more complications.

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Zak Ben Cheikh of Morocco is the president of CSC’s Soccer Club. Jazmin Schwark said she was fascinated by the stories of Ramadan, which Ben Cheikh explained as a 30-day stretch of daytime fasting that reminds those who practice it what it is like to be hungry.

Community showers are common in Morocco, a three hour process that also serves as a social gathering.

Savannah Hurtado had never heard of Curacao until she met Clinton Albertus. While music and art weren’t taught in high schools in his native country, Albertus is a music major at CSC. While he said American water is substandard to what he drinks at home, Curacao has frequent electrical outages. People there use public transportation and speak several languages – all of the international students know more than one language – and are very affectionate, often hugging friends and strangers alike.

Ethiopia, Tsion Woldekiros’ native home, follows a calendar similar to the Julian calendar, something that astounded Haley Glasscock, who discovered that it is 2009 in that country. The Orthodox Christians there disagree with the Roman Catholics on when Jesus was born and therefore follow a different calendar, Glasscock said. The country’s year lasts 13 months. Glasscock was also intrigued by the Feast of the Epiphany, a three-day celebration with re-enactments of the baptism and replicas of the Ark of the Covenant.

Hannah Andersen was the only student in the class to interview someone other than a fellow student. She completed the assignment while on a mission trip to Costa Rica over spring break, learning how to communicate with her host family even though they did not speak each other’s language. Music, food and family were an important part of the culture there, she said. Her host family had five children, one of whom still lives at home. Two of the daughters live within walking distance of their parents’ home, Andersen said, and they make it a point to eat together each night.

“The whole experience gave me a really different perspective,” she said.

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