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Think Global, Act Local: Speaking Up!

Photo By Kayleigh Omang

Shalom Alekhem

I hope this written piece finds you before your next prowess of the day!

It is with great pleasure and honor that I get to introduce a stellar gentleman whom I got the privilege to learn from and benefit from his notable passage in the Red River Valley.

Have you ever been energized and inspired by an encounter with a human being with a contagious passion and care for the community? Well after meeting Girimana that is how I felt: I wanted to take on many challenges presented by society;

I felt encouraged and confident that I could do anything because when Girimana sets his eyes on an objective only the stratosphere is the limit. He is resilient and a radical optimist whenever faced with challenges.

As a proud MSUM graduate in Communication, he has left the Dragon campus better than he found it and this speaks to his transformative servant leadership skills.

Fargo-Moorhead is fortunate to have him call the valley his home away from his beautiful home, the land of milk and honey: Burundi.

We sincerely hope Girimana continues to call the valley home because he is on a mission to make this world a better place!

In Solidarity:

– Alexandre Cyusa

Where do you call home and since when have you called Fargo home?

Home for me is a beautiful city, 7,000 miles away from here, called Bujumbura. It is the largest city and the capital of Burundi. With approximately 10 million people, Burundi is also one of the smallest countries on the African continent.

Currently, we live in a time where humans, especially Millennials, are constantly moving between different places. The constant technological innovations

have made our world a small village. Consequently, many young adults like me do not consider one place as their only home. My home is where I feel appreciated, serene, challenged and safe. I came to the United States about four years ago. Fargo-Moorhead has become my “home away from home” mainly due to the connections and relationships that I have built over the years.

The Story of Speak Up

As an event coordinator for the Dragon Entertainment Group at MSUM, I wanted to create an event that gave a platform to any person that has a personal message or story that they would like to share with the rest of the campus. I have had incredible professors and have so many friends that have incredible stories that have inspired me (and sometimes leave me speechless.) And, while talking to them, I remember thinking: “It would be nice if so and so could hear this story…”

So, I thought, let’s have an event where anyone can come and listen to those personal stories, because at the end of the day we all can learn from each other. And, with the support of my supervisor Becky Boyle Jones, other team members and Annie Wood, the assistant director for student life, we were able to host it for the first time during spring of 2018.

Was there culture shock leaving Bujumbura and coming to Fargo?

When I left my hometown, I had no expectations or preconceived ideas of how life in Fargo would be. I landed in the US like a charred blue teddy bear that fell from the skies and into your pool. I came as a college student and my first impressions
of Fargo were good. I met nice people and my new place was not too bad. Even though my English proficiency was limited,

I was able to communicate and even crack a few jokes; unsuccessfully. During the
first days, I was honestly only preoccupied with perfecting my English and where my classes were located.

My first culture shock symptoms did not kick in until two months from my arrival. At first, you do not realize that you are doing or noticing things because of a cultural shock. Although the food and the weather were some of the big differences, my biggest cultural shock was the lifestyle. I come from a society built on communitarianism and the USA (Fargo included) has a society centered on individualism. It may sound weird, but most of our daily life activities are communal. I learned how to adjust, appreciate and assimilate myself to my new lifestyle.

Why should people care about reading about regions
outside the Midwest? And the interconnectedness between worlds?

There is a proverb in Kirundi, my mother tongue and the official language in Burundi, that says, “Akanyoni katagurutse ntikamenya iyo bweze” – And that basically translates to “A bird which never flies, never knows that there is food somewhere else.” The bird in this proverb can symbolize anybody while the food can be about knowledge. The best way to learn about other countries, other than actually going there, is to read about them. I am always fascinated when I meet someone from a country that I don’t particularly know a lot about. And I always try to find one thing that both my country and theirs have in common. The goal, by doing that, is to acknowledge their cultural background while building a personal connection with that person.

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Is there a misconception of safety about your country’s continent (media impacting one’s opinion)?

The fact that we live in a warzone is probably the biggest misconception of safety that people might have. For example, there are 54 countries on the African continent. Fifty-four countries with different cultures, politics and ethnicities. The media has nurtured the idea that we live with constant fear and hunger which is far from the truth. Just like anywhere in the rest of the world, we have people who live in poor conditions and others who live

in good conditions. We have some regions that are plagued with insecurity and others that are considered some of the safest in the world.

The media has indeed taken part in spreading false information and broad stereotypes about not only African countries, but also other countries as well. It is a powerful tool which can control

the way people perceive one another. Chimamanda Ngozi said it best when she said, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

What did you learn growing up in Burundi that you can apply here in Fargo?

Growing up, I learned, through life experiences, that we are alike and yet all different somehow. I realized that our differences do not necessarily have to be an obstacle in living together. All it takes is a little common sense and tolerance. If my neighbor has a religion different from mine, how does that prevent me from living my own belief? If an individual dresses or lives eccentrically, how does this interfere with my daily life? If someone else has opinions that are different from mine, how does that prevent me from having mine?

My country’s history taught me that our differences can actually enrich our lives
in general. Think about how boring and monotonous life would be if we were all perfectly alike! No culture or religion is absolutely perfect. So, what did I learn in Burundi that I can apply here (or anywhere in the world)? I learned that we should just cultivate tolerance and remember that we will always be “different” from someone else.

What is your vision 2030? Where will you be and why?

I honestly don’t know. I am a person who likes to live in the present. So, I just hope that the next 10 years will be a time of continuous learning, because I am a firm believer that we never stop learning. I hope that in those 10 years, I get to spend more time with loved ones, strengthen lost friendships and just strive to be happy. Now, we all know that sometimes things don’t necessarily go in the way we want them to go, but beautiful things can also come from the unexpected.

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

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