From Ethiopia to San Diego: One International Student’s Transition to Point Loma

In Features, Latest News by Maddy Garrett

At 18 years old, Estifanos Mekuria left his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a new, foreign life in San Diego, California. Having spent his entire life in Ethiopia, Mekuria was ready for a monumental change; he desired independence and a new experience.

Mekuria was raised in a Nazarene home with his parents and two brothers. They are all full Ethiopian, and his parents are domestic missionaries in their home country. Since he grew up in the Nazarene Church and his older brother attends a Nazarene university in Kenya, going to a Nazarene university felt like an obligation for Mekuria.

Recognizing that his parents were pushing for him to attend a Nazarene university, Mekuria started researching different ones around the U.S. Mekuria said, “I researched all the Nazarene schools and Point Loma was one of the best…and when I visited, well, I mean look at the ocean.”

Another draw for him was that Point Loma offered Engineering, which he wanted to major in. He finally made the decision to attend Point Loma, where he felt he could best express his talents and abilities.

Mekuria knew that moving to the U.S. would be a huge culture shock, and his experiences so far have not contradicted that initial belief. Mekuria is accustomed to a very conservative, diverse and even more evangelical society. One of the first distinctions that he noticed when he came to the U.S. was the difference in dress. Mekuria said, “It is much more reserved at home. People wear more dresses, longer sleeves, more covering, and schools require uniforms.”

Clothing was not the only difference he noticed. After spending some time in different churches in the San Diego area, he has observed that the way Americans interpret the Bible is different from Ethiopians. “At home,” he said, “the Church interprets the Bible as it is, while in America it is all very contextualized.” It took him a while to get used to this way of reading the Bible, but he has come to appreciate it. He actually enjoys the way American churches contextualize the Bible to fit present-day situations and experiences. He likes that it relates to real life rather than just reading it for its literal meaning.

Despite Mekuria’s ability to adapt fairly easily to American culture, he still feels like Ethiopia is where he belongs- it is his home. He admitted that it is harder living in the U.S. as opposed to Ethiopia because he has grown up in that culture and society.

Although there is certainly racial unrest throughout Ethiopia, Mekuria grew up in a diverse community that was very tolerant. Protests and violence never directly affected him unless his school was closed down for safety. He said, “Where I grew up and went to school it was more progressive and accepting of all races.” Mekuria attended a school that enrolled many American students as well as those of many other ethnicities from around the world. He is extremely glad that he chose a school such as Point Loma because he feels as if an accepting environment is very much present in this community as well.

Mekuria is finishing his third year at Point Loma, and he is still more than happy with the decision he made. He has had a very positive experience at Point Loma so far, especially in the area of racial and social issues that are a large problem in the world right now. He said, “Point Loma really tries to be diverse and I feel accepted here.” He immediately felt welcomed to Point Loma when he first arrived, and he still feels that way.

He pointed out that there are occasionally people that stereotype him or make racist jokes, but he said that they have not significantly affected him. When people tell jokes or make comments on his race, he brushes it off. He knew he would be judged for his race and upbringing in such a different culture, but it is something he tries not to think about too much. He knows people have preconceived ideas of other peoples and cultures, and that stereotyping is almost inevitable. Although he has to deal with the reality of racial issues occasionally, he still has never felt unwelcomed on Point Loma’s campus.

Despite the initial culture shock and environment change, Mekuria has adapted to the culture at Point Loma very well. Mekuria feels very integrated in the Point Loma community and he feels extremely fortunate to go to such an accepting school that really tries to promote diversity. Mekuria said, “Coming here was a whole lot of change. I guess that’s what I would leave as a phrase to sum up my experience here: ‘A whole lot of change.’”

Although Mekuria loves living in San Diego, he does plan on going back to Ethiopia after he graduates and starting a family back home. He would like to apply to a few jobs and internships here in the U.S. though, and if those end up working out, he would not mind staying for a while longer. He is playing it by ear for now and enjoying his current life in San Diego.

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