My name is Bernice Semana and I am an international student born in Kigali, Rwanda. I am a senior at Briar Cliff University majoring in biochemistry with a minor in business. I will graduate in May 2021 and will attend graduate school in the United States.
- What challenges have you experienced in Siouxland?
The language barrier was difficult, especially at the beginning. Sometimes people are not understanding that I, or other international students, come from a different place or a different background. This can happen for lots of reasons. It may be that the person hasn’t had the opportunity to travel or experience different ways of living. However, in this time in our world we each have the responsibility to educate ourselves. Even if travel isn’t an option, there are many ways to learn by attending cultural events, doing research online, and developing friendships with people different than you.
Coming to Iowa was a very different experience. I was awarded a scholarship to attend college here, so I took a big risk and decided to come. Being away from family has been difficult. Everything about my life in college is different from what I was used to. The teaching and learning styles in American school are different, the perceptions people have of me can be based on stereotypes or misinformation. I did my best to learn about the community I am in now, but have definitely experienced challenges in the process. I have experienced some racism during my time here, and it felt like I was taking two steps forward and one-step backward.
- How has Siouxland been welcoming?
The Briar Cliff University campus has been a wonderful support group for me. There are other international students on campus, and we support each other. In fact, there was another student from Rwanda that helped me during my transition to Sioux City. There were other students that grew up in the United States that were also helpful and have become good friends. The staff and advisors at Briar Cliff have also made an impact on my time here and have encouraged me to keep working toward my goals. There have been people in the Sioux City community through my church and community groups that also welcomed me and mentored me. I have also had the opportunity to learn leadership skills through our Women of Color organization on campus. Together with the other women in the group we have held educational programs, built friendships, and supported each other.
3. What do you want the people of Siouxland to know?
The continent of Africa is a large and diverse place with many cultures and countries. Within the continent there are a variety of communities, cities, and rural areas. There is a diversity of languages, traditions, ways of making a living, and more. It is important for people to understand that even though I am from Africa, my life is not the same as others. It is the same as in other parts of the world or even the United States. Each person has their own unique story and experience. There are struggles and triumphs that each person carries with them. I want people to understand this diversity and take time to educate themselves about the various people within the community. People will benefit from developing an understanding and appreciation for differences.
I also want the Siouxland community to know that my family is very proud and supportive of my educational and career goals. Even though we are a far distance apart, they remain a big part of my life. They take every chance they get to tell people about me and what I have achieved at Briar Cliff. I know they are proud of me and I want to continue to make them proud in the future.
Despite experiencing some challenges along the way, I want the community to know that I am grateful for the people and opportunities I have come across. Being a leader in our Women of Color organization at Briar Cliff has especially made a positive impact. We have done lots of community outreach and events together. Being in the Siouxland community has given me access to experiences that have truly helped strengthen me as a person.