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“I’m sure you wish you grew up in more developed countries” is the response I evoke most when I recount my childhood to people. A retort that takes me back to 2001 when the hefty engine of an Ethiopian Airways airplane landed at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. With it came a young woman full of hopes and dreams for her unknown future – my mother. Having just gotten through a very rough divorce, she felt overcome and stifled by the immense pressures of having to conform to the traditional values of her village cornering marriage, and hence seized a minor job opportunity to volunteer with the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who after 2 years moved her post to their offices in Malawi. 

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Although my mother may not perceive it as such, growing up in underdeveloped countries has been one of the most instrumental elements in shaping the person that I am today. Their cosmopolitan populations did not only allow me to develop a more open mind, but also ingrained in me a strong sense of pluralism by exposing me to their national and international cultures and people. Throughout my schooling life in these countries, not only was I able to advance my english proficiency, but I was fortunate enough to also grasp a fair amount of Amharic, Chichewa, and French by interacting with my peers whose ethnicities ranged from some of the 70 tribes in the region, to Asian and even European. That said, with every move it was still very important to my mother that we remembered our origins. As a result, I recall spending summers in Blantyre (Malawi) reading Petals of Blood, a great narrative by Ng?g? wa Thiongo that describes post colonial Kenya and the impacts of westernization. A novel that likens its contributions to the understanding of world history as the Quran, Bible, compositions of Shakespeare, or even those of Orwell. As a consequence of these contrasting experiences I, unknowingly, found myself leading parallel lives. One of African values of family, respect, perseverance, and the other of Western principles such as discipline, hard work, and punctuality; kindred lives that opened up a reinvigorated channel of socialization that helped solidify my relationships with others and taught me one of my most valuable life lessons. Whereas several individuals consider cultural disparity a cause of conflict, on the contrary, I have learnt that cultural diversity can intrinsically be the foundation on which people can connect and share, forming lasting bonds.

So when people suggest that I must have loved to spend my childhood in another country, my answer is simply “actually……. no”. The reason being that I struggle to envision a country that would be as well suited and culturally diversified to nurture my unprejudiced approach to life as these African countries. I have consistently come to terms with the fact that my past accomplishments and future aspirations are deeply rooted in my lived experiences. I am who I am today because I was ‘fortunate’ enough, perhaps even ‘lucky’ enough to have found a teacher in all these experiences. It is for these reasons that I have chosen Harvard; a community that fosters the positive impacts of people’s experiences, so that learning is propelled from Annenburg Hall all the way to music practice rooms, leaving each interaction with a piece of knowledge. 

I look forward to broadening my approach to life in a new country that I am ever so certain is just as developed as mine.