Hey again. So you know my name (if you’re bad with names, or you don’t want to read my tag, it’s -Bemnet-). You also know a little bit about my background. My hometown is Columbus, Ohio; however, I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Even though I didn’t actually grow up in Ethiopia, I am still very attached to my culture. Luckily, after I moved, it wasn’t very hard to stay connected to my culture. Excluding the DMV area (DC, Maryland, and Virginia), Atlanta, Seattle, and LA, Columbus has the largest population of Ethiopian people. The staple piece of Ethiopian food, injera, a spongy, sourdough tasting bread base, is a short drive away from my home. And we are all in close proximity to each other, which makes it easier to attend major events together. We are a tight knit group. To say that moving to St. Louis, where the Ethiopian population is a ¼ of what Columbus has and is a long drive from WashU, was an adjustment is an extreme understatement.
As a new student in a foreign city, I’m not going to lie, things were tough at first. I was worried when I found out there was only one place where I could get Ethiopian food and it was quite a drive from campus. I was also terrified when I didn’t initially see another Ethiopian student on campus. Celebrating my first Ethiopian Christmas during my fall semester alone was hard, but like everything, it takes time.
During my first semester here, I didn’t meet another Ethiopian. I spent weeks hoping to see the familiar eyes and cheeks or hearing the rising intonation of Amharic, the official language. However, it wasn’t until I attended my first meeting at the Association of Black Students General Board meeting that I saw another Ethiopian student. It was a cultural reunion when I went to a General Board meeting at the Association of Black Students and I finally found my first Ethiopian friend, Beakal. She quickly became one of my closest friends at WashU.
From there, Beakal was able to open my eyes to the Ethiopian community on campus. We are all a part of the African Student Association, or better known as ASA. ASA is a club on campus where they promote awareness of the political, social, and economic climate in African nations. They try to establish a deeper understanding and appreciation of the dynamic in Africa. ASA is not an affinity group, so anyone can join! Last year, they hosted some great events like…
- Africa Nite, where they brought food from different African nations to URSA’s, located on South 40, for anyone who wanted to come and sample some local cuisine. Last year one of the foods in the rotation was Ethiopian food… my personal favorite (do you sense a bias here?)
- African Fashion Show, hosted in the DUC, where they wore traditional and current African clothing. They also brought in a local dance center with West African dancing and drumming.
- African Film Festival, located in Brown Hall, for WashU students and the greater St. Louis community. One of the directors came and did a panel where he was able to discuss his film and the portrayal of Africans in media and the arts.
I found that the Ethiopian community, and African communities in general, came together for each other including for the events mentioned above. One friend showed me a small place that sold injera, so I could eat it in my dorm! We celebrated for each other when we walked in the African Fashion show. My experience at Wash U was strongly affected by my involvement in ASA. I no longer feel isolated. I feel like I’ve truly found a community here.
My other friends with different backgrounds, like Turkey, India, and one with a Jewish heritage initially felt what I described earlier in the article, but we realized after our first year here that it’s not just quantity but about the quality of the groups here. We are a diverse community made up of many, many other different communities with students coming from across the nation and around the world. Community is a major part of WashU, and I saw that in the cultural clubs on campus. There are 77 diversity-related student groups on campus and each one celebrates the different backgrounds and cultures of the university’s population. WashU is a medium sized university but a diverse school, so our groups may be small, but we’re there for each other.