Olivier Iryamukuru is from a “little bitty country in central Africa” – Rwanda.
He found out about ACU in a program called Reach to Rwanda that takes students in Rwanda and helps them find universities in the U.S. – so when he finished high school, they helped him find a Christian university.
“I decided to come here because ACU is a Christian school,” said Irjamukuru, sophomore math and actuarial science major. “When I was looking for a school where to go in college, I was most looking for a Christian school where I would be able to grow intellectually and at the same time, grow spiritually and learn about Jesus.”
There are about 130 international students, including graduate students, enrolled this semester. Students come from all corners of the globe – including Korea, Japan, Uganda, Jamaica, Singapore, China, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, France and Germany – so it’s an incredibly diverse group of students, said Veronica Whitt, international student services coordinator.
Leaving home and coming to college is certainly a big transition for any student, but it’s especially tough for international students entering a new culture while living thousands of miles away from familiarity. Iryamukuru said it was challenging trying to learn a new language and at the same time, trying to adjust to a new social life and school in Texas.
“Growing up in Africa, and coming here to a different country, you get a new experience and meeting new people,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s kind of difficult to be away from home ten months, or a year or two years. On that part, on the social part, it’s kind of difficult because you don’t get to see your friends, the ones you grew up with, or your family. But then, on the other part, it’s good because you’re getting a new experience meeting new people and learning a different language. We grew up speaking French in Rwanda, so coming here, I get to learn English. I’m having a great experience.”
Another struggle is feeling like he doesn’t belong to U.S. culture, since his home is 8,000 miles away.
“When I was back home, I wasn’t used to people asking me where I’m from,” Iryamukuru said. “I feel like I belong to Rwanda, so I don’t have anybody asking me where I’m from. So when you go to a different country and people ask you where you’re from, you feel like that sense of not belonging to the place. This is not home. I don’t belong to this place. That’s kind of challenging, feeling like you’re not belonging where you’re at.”
In October, he got the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for the National Student Leadership Forum after his advisor, Mark Riggs, nominated him for the program. Once he was accepted, he received enough financial aid to afford plane tickets, a hotel room, and the program itself.
“Mainly the whole forum is about teaching leadership, about Jesus’ leadership,” Iryamukuru said. “For nonbelievers and us who believe in Jesus Christ, the best leader of all time was Jesus. He’s been gone for 2,000 years now but still people believe in God and believe in Jesus. So no matter what your religion is, Jesus Christ still can be the role model. That’s what the conference was about, teaching us about the leadership of Jesus and how he was able to accomplish his mission in the world so that we can apply the same leadership strategies he used in our real lives.”
He was also able to visit D.C. again in February for the National Prayer Breakfast, a yearly event since 1953, typically attended by several thousand guests. Every U.S. President since Eisenhower has participated in the event – this year, it was led by President Trump. The breakfast is organized by the same people who organized the leadership forum, and that’s how Iryamukuru was chosen to attend.
“In the forum, they pulled us from each group because they had to choose one or two students who would get to go to the National Prayer Breakfast, and I was one of them,” he said. “It was called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, because that’s when the president meets different leaders from the country and prays for the country. I got to be part of that, and got to be in the same place as the president, so it was pretty neat.”
Iryamukuru is full of gratitude for the opportunities he’s been given here at ACU and the people who have helped him along the way.
“I just want to thank the math department, they helped me pay some of the things I needed,” Iryamukuru said. “I want to thank the Vice President [of Advancement], Jim Orr, he’s the one who helped me pay the plane ticket and the hotel, so he’s been playing a great role in me being able to go to the prayer breakfast and being able to go to the student leadership forum. I also want to thank the provost, Dr. [Robert] Rhodes, he also helped me this year when I was going for the prayer breakfast.”
He also wants to encourage people to find out more about the National Student Leadership Forum because it’s an opportunity to learn about leadership while meeting people to help build your spiritual life.