When Filimon Ghebretinsae was 25 yrs old he studied abroad in Rwanda. This is experience led him to become a Peace Corps Volunteer and pursue a career in international development.
What impact do you feel this trip had on you?
My first trip to Rwanda had a great impact on who I wanted to become. I studied abroad in Rwanda my last quarter in my undergrad and it was the best decision I have ever made. This study of abroad trip showed me that the world is much bigger than just the United States. This trip also proved to me that I can live and work outside my small community in Seattle. Upon my return from this trip I applied to the U.S. Peace Corps and served as a volunteer in Kenyan/Rwanda for two years. I am now a dual master’s student studying international development and global health policies looking to start a career internationally. My study of abroad trip and my Peace Corps experience helped me find my passion in life, which is to work on international development with a focus on health.
Do you feel this trip affected your sense of self or the world?
Most definitely! I was unsure of what I wanted to doing after graduating from my undergraduate. This trip showed me that I can be useful in places I never imagined to live. During my international experience as a public health volunteer I have seen people suffer from preventable illnesses, lack of resources and lack of knowledge and information. I want to be part of the change that provides these basic needs to communities abroad.
"This study of abroad trip showed me that the world is much bigger than just the United States."
What do you think you accomplished or pursued that you otherwise would not have?
During my experience abroad, I have made lifetime friends and learned very much from the people I served. My communities in Kenya and Rwanda taught me that you can be very happy and have so little. I have seen and experienced poverty at first hand and can never forget how gracefully people live under a dollar a day. Additionally, I have initiated health clubs in locals schools, taught computer classes to out of school youth, conducted educational community wide Malaria and HIV/AIDS events and distributed water filters and cook stoves to Rwanda's most poor.
How do you feel your experience was different as person of color?
Now having had worked internationally for 2+ years, my experience as a person of color has its own challenges. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I always had to prove my credibility to the people I served. If a non-colored colleague came to visit me in my village, he/she automatically was more credible than myself in the eyes of my community. My identity as a black/African man was always questioned because I had a lighter skin than those I served. People could not believe blacks lived in the U.S. and as a result I had endless conversation around race and racial stereotypes with my community members.
What do you feel contributed the most to this effect?
I feel like the people I served had the most impact in my abroad experience. Their welcoming smiles and openness to teach me their ways and learn from my expertise humbled me.
What advice would you give to the person you were before you took this journey?
Do not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Do not be afraid to live and work with people who are different from you. The world is much bigger than the United States and the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Filimon Ghebretinsae was born in Eritrea but grew up in Seattle WA. He received his BA from Western Washington University in Communication. After graduation, Filimon served as a Public Health Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya and Rwanda. He is now studying Sustainable International Development and Global Health Policy and Management at Brandeis University Heller School. Currently interning with World Vision International for the summer.