MIUSA: What motivated you to study in the United States?
Samson Ndindiriyimana: American schools do their best to accommodate disabled students, which is not the case in Rwanda, my home country. I used to dream about studying abroad though I knew it was not easy for Deaf people like me. Now you can imagine how happy I am to see my dreams come true.
M: How did you fund your U.S. studies?
SN: I received the Rwanda Presidential Scholarship Program, which is a partnership between the Rwandan Government and some U.S. universities and colleges, including Hendrix College, where I attended. Under this program, top performing students are sent to pursue their undergraduate and graduate education in the U.S.
M: What were some challenges you faced in pursuing your U.S. studies, and how did you work through them?
SN: Challenge number one was, of course, communication.
As a Deaf guy who never heard spoken English, how would I pass the interview required for the scholarship? Fortunately I came to realize that the interviewer was not testing my English speaking skills, but rather my passion and dreams about my future.
Challenge number two was paying the fees for travel documents, but with help from friends and former schoolmates, I managed to make it.
The third challenge was using computers and having limited internet access. However, with help from computer-skilled friends, everything went fine.
M: What has been your experience living in the U.S.?
SN: At our arrival, we could have died from excitement! People around us were very welcoming. We were hosted by generous families for the entire summer while studying intensive English and learning about American culture. We were often invited to attend parties, some of which were organized in our honor!
On campus, I made friends with a lot of students, who invited me to play games, have lunch together, go on camping trips, have picnics and so on.
M: What has been your experience as a Deaf international visitor?
SN: Although interacting and communicating with new people is a big challenge, I noticed that disabled people are treated better and more respected in the U.S. than in my home country. For instance, if someone asks you something and you tell him that you are Deaf, he will take a pen and a paper to write what he wanted to say, whereas in my home country, he may just walk away. When I was still in my country, kids in my village would insult me, throw stones at me or yell at me, "deaf, deaf!"
The term "deaf" in my mother tongue sounds so pejorative that I would slap whoever would dare to call me "deaf!”
In contrast, I proudly proclaimed that I am Deaf while introducing myself in the U.S. because I was confident that everyone there would give me the respect I deserve.
M: What kinds of tools did you use to access your academic and social activities?
SN: The resources available to me were beyond my imagination! At first, the school offered to hire an interpreter, but since I was not good at signing, I used technology to assist me in everything. For example, in the classroom, there was a transcriber who assisted me remotely. I appreciated this service because I could catch every word, so I didn't miss anything the professors had to say.
Apart from transcription service, the school provided different devices such as UbiDuo - which allowed me to hang out with friends next door - and an iPad equipped with many useful apps.
M: How will your experiences as an international student in the U.S. impact your future goals?
SN: Studying in the U.S. was a great privilege for me that thousands of hearing and Deaf people from Rwanda or elsewhere don't have, so I was careful not to abuse this privilege. I am completely confident that I will achieve my future goals because my school provided me with all I needed to achieve them, supporting me materially, financially and morally.
In Rwanda, I will continue to advocate for the education of Deaf people. To achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Rwanda, primary and secondary education has been made free for almost everyone, but apparently not for Deaf children. We don't have a public primary or secondary school for Deaf people. Most deaf schools are run privately, and only children from wealthy families or NGO-sponsored ones can afford them. So, some Deaf and disabled children stay home all the time.
For now, I’m thinking about working on encouraging partnership with some American schools for the Deaf and the existing Rwandan ones. Together, they can put pressure on the Rwandan government so that it ensures that all Deaf students go to school and that they are well-accommodated. If that ever works, more successful Deaf students will emerge and the government will not hesitate to send them to study abroad.
M: Do you have any advice to share?
SN: To people with disabilities who wish to study in the U.S., I do assure them that American schools for disabled people will accommodate them without discrimination. I sing the praises of American professors and students who are very kind and friendly and ready to help when needed.
Although many American Deaf students attend schools for the Deaf, I want to mention that [mainstream schools] want them as well because they believe that hearing students and faculty will learn something useful from Deaf and disabled students. So, if you are Deaf or disabled and wish to study in the U.S., don't hesitate to apply for admittance. You will be more than welcome!