It was such a pleasure to interview MSD student Tsigab Solomon Berhe from Eritrea, whose enthusiasm for life, learning, and education is contagious. This happy guy is always the first to raise his hand in class to discuss or answer questions. And he’s a poet as well! Learn more about Tsigab’s positive approach to life and his dedication to gaining knowledge, which will surely pave his path to success. (And be sure to read his poem at the end of the article).
Interview by Christine Albers (CA)
CA: Tell us about your childhood in Eritrea.
Tsigab: I had a lovely childhood in Eritrea, a beautiful country located in the horn of Africa. I was the first child, with five younger siblings, and we have a fantastic love between us in our family. That love is almost supernatural, second to none.
CA: How did your parents make a living?
Tsigab: My father was a soldier and my mother was a housewife. At some point life became difficult and they had financial and economic problems so my father left the country and found work in Israel. He has worked there for over 10 years so he can send money to the family. One sibling is working in Switzerland, and I am in the U.S., so now we are scattered like seeds all over the world, but we all connect frequently by phone.
CA: What kind of education did you receive in Eritrea?
Tsigab: I was born in a small town where the schooling was not very good and when I was in 8th grade, we moved to Adi-Keih, where I was able to attend a better school. After a while, my parents moved to a different city, and I lived by myself in a town called Senafe to complete Grade 9. There were a lot of highly intelligent students there and I knew I had to study hard to catch up and compete with them. All I needed to do was study.
CA: You were so young. How did you take care of yourself?
Tsigab: My parents sent me boxes of food and recipes on the bus so I could learn to cook for myself.
CA: How long did you live in Adi-Keih and what came next?
Tsigab: I finished grades 10 through 11 in Adi-Keih, and then, according to Eritrean law, I joined a military camp called SAWA where I completed one year of military training which included grade 12. It was my duty, even though life was difficult there because the weather was terrible and we were separated from our families and loved ones. However, the good thing is that it was a youth camp where students came from every corner of the country. We shared many things, such as cultural and traditional perspectives, and that made life a piece of cake.
CA: What did you do after military camp?
Tsigab: After completing the military camp, I took the matriculation exam. It is tough because it determines what your future will be. Just to make a story short, I got the highest distinction mark of a 4.0 GPA.
I was assigned to Mai-Nefhi college in Asmara, the capital of the country, where I pursued my dream of studying computer science. I hoped to find a job after graduation, but it never happened.
CA: Congratulations on your score! Why was it difficult to find a job in Eritrea?
Tsigab: We cannot study what we want, and cannot find enough computers or internet access, and we cannot find employment after graduating from college. You can’t find a job because there are no channels to continue in your field. These things make life complicated, so a lot of people, including me, leave the country. I knew that I wouldn’t find work and I wanted to enhance myself and get higher education.
CA: I understand that it is illegal to leave Eritrea. Is that true?
Tsigab: Yes, it is true that we are not allowed to leave the country, so I fled illegally and crossed into Egypt.
CA: Your family must miss you.
Tsigab: My parents miss me and I miss them, but because they are illiterate and uneducated, they want us to understand how lack of education makes life harder. They are too old to think of going back to school now, but they encourage us to keep on studying and achieve a better life, so they are proud that I am pursuing higher education. My parents are legally allowed to travel to Ethiopia or Sudan because they are older, and we hope to meet in the future after I finish my course.
CA: You mentioned that you lived in Egypt after graduating from college. What were you doing there?
Tsigab: When I arrived in Egypt, I found about 15,000 Eritreans living there. They left Eritrea while they were in junior high or high school, or were involved in other activities. As a consequence, they had very little education and wanted to study and learn as much as possible. I wanted to help them so I started my own private school and taught computer science and English. Eventually, I chose to come to the United States because I knew it was a land with many opportunities. It seemed like a promised land.
CA: Was it hard to leave your school?
Tsigab: Yes, it was very hard. I wished I could stay and help them but I knew I had to get a higher education level. I agree with Nelson Mandela who said that “education is the only weapon that can change the world.”
CA: Where did you land in the USA?
Tsigab: My point of entry was New York City and I went to Arizona where I have relatives. Then I took a job in California, where I was a dispatcher for a pilot freight company. I took calls from customers and answered emails from different branches throughout the U.S.
CA: How did you hear about the MSD program?
Tsigab: When I came to this country, I wanted higher education, but I had never heard of MIU. My two relatives in Arizona told me they had graduated from MIU. One of them graduated from ComPro (M.S. in Computer Science) and the other from MSD. They told me that MIU is a nice place and I should go there. I looked at the MSD website and decided it would be a good place for me. My relatives also told me that I would learn Transcendental Meditation at MIU.
CA: What did your relatives say about the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM)?
Tsigab: They said it helped them in school. But meditation is a bit contradictory for us, as we are from the land of religion. We respect our religion, so when we are told to try something else that seems spiritual, we might not accept it until we feel it is okay. When my relatives told me about something called TM, I thought, what is this? I googled it and learned it is not a religion. It is something else. It’s a technique that anyone from any religion can practice and when I came here, I found it was fantastic.
CA: That’s great that you are finding that TM is fantastic. Can you tell how it has benefited you?
Tsigab: TM improves intelligence, creativity, and clear thinking. It’s helping me in school because I’m more energetic, motivated, and encouraged to study. I feel happy and relaxed, and I notice that good things come with that, including better relationships. I was very uptight before I learned TM, but now I’m always happy, and this helps me foster and maintain good relationships and do well in school.
CA: What would you say to prospective MSD students?
Tsigab: I would tell them this is a fantastic university and I have been enjoying everything here. I like the way MIU is designed to help you succeed. The campus is in a rural area, which is a great environment to gain higher education and be productive in your studies. If it was in a big city, it could be a problem with so many distractions.
The meditation helps with your studies and the food is vegetarian, organic, and healthy. Our dorms have exercise equipment, and there’s a large gym for all the students so we can be physically fit. We are encouraged to get plenty of rest so we are alert in class. Overall, it’s a healthy environment that helps you learn.
CA: What advice would you give to new students?
Tsigab: I was a good student all my life because I studied extremely hard. So, I would say, when you come to MIU, be prepared to focus and concentrate on your studies. If you are persistent, you can do well. Working hard and staying dedicated is the key. And be open to the university’s approach to education, which is all about helping you achieve success.
WHEN I ARRIVED
by Tsigab Berhe
It was above my expectation
A lovely place of attraction
With great teachers and professors
And the scent of knowledge
It is quite quiet
During the day and night
An amazing environment
And unbelievable place of enhancement
A well-designed system of education
With meditation that keeps your direction
A source of happiness and stillness
That leads to cosmic consciousness
It improves clarity
For all students of this university
a university with great faculty
Yum, healthy and organic foods
All kinds of vegetables and fruits
Is what this university feeds
With all other healthy amenities
Here in Fairfield
In Iowa, a beautiful land
Where this university is located
Where knowledge is gained.