From Mutoko to Milledgeville, a Journey on the U.S. Student Achievers Program

Rujeko Chinomona
Rujeko Chinomona

More than 8,000 miles from home, Rujeko Chinomona was one of the 1,199 entering freshmen at Georgia College this fall. Hailing from Mutoko, Zimbabwe, Rujeko journeyed the farthest of any of the students in the freshmen class. It took her over 20 hours to reach Georgia, just in time for orientation, and even after lack of sleep and a missed connecting flight in Washington, D.C., Rujeko was alert and active in orientation, fully ready to begin her academic career at her new university.

Rujeko is one of the distinguished participants in the U.S. Student Achievers Program (USAP), a program founded by Rebecca Zeigler Mano, an educational advisor at the U.S Embassy Public Affairs Section in Zimbabwe. The goal of the program is to assist highly talented, economically disadvantaged international students to access higher education at selective U.S. colleges and universities. USAP participants are chosen based on academic excellence, demonstrated leadership potential, ethos of giving back to community and economic disadvantage. The aim is to help grow the future leaders of countries where USAP operates.

Rujeko was one of only 33 students selected for the 2010 USAP class; out of 972 applications received from all ten provinces in Zimbabwe. While most of her USAP peers are studying at schools in the Northeast, Rujeko was the only one that ended up in the Southeast. Adviser Rebecca Zeigler Mano had visited Georgia College back in the late ’90s, and recognized it as a good fit for Rujeko. Together with funding from Georgia College and the Grace Scholarship Program, Rujeko was able to obtain the needed finances to pursue her education in the U.S. Rujeko chose to study in the United States because of the breadth of education offered. “Back home, students only concentrate on one subject while at university, but at U.S. institutions, students have options to study different disciplines,” Rujeko said. “I also wanted to have an opportunity to live in a different place, meet new people and explore different points of view. There are so many opinions here.” Rujeko’s uncle, who had studied at the University of New Haven in Connecticut also inspired and encouraged her to study abroad.

Only a couple of months in her new home, Rujeko has quickly adapted and already become very involved on campus. She was invited to join the Honors program and is an active member of the International Club. She volunteers every Friday with the recycling program, and has a part-time job with Phonathon, helping with university fundraising campaigns. Rujeko represented Georgia College as a participant in the South East Model African Union (SEMAU) conference at Augusta State University and is already scheduling other conferences. She also takes time to share her native culture with the local community. Rujeko held a Zimbabwe information table at the annual International Day and has given several presentations on her country at a local middle school. One reason Rujeko has felt comfortable in Milledgeville is that she finds the people open and friendly. While she mentions that not all understand her experiences, most are willing to learn. She also thinks communication is very convenient and likes the fact that Americans are always on time.

As for the classroom experience, Rujeko is impressed with the way professors teach at Georgia College. “The student-professor relationship is different; it’s friendlier. Teachers seek your understanding and help you to develop your own opinions. They also give assignments and the syllabus in advance, so you can plan ahead and achieve your goals.” At times Rujeko finds it a challenge to keep up with classroom dialogue and to express her opinions fully. She is not as familiar with some of the American cultural references, and is sometimes slowed down by translating her thoughts from Shona, her native tongue. However, Rujeko is performing well in her classes, and communication is easier day by day. As for her future career, Rujeko has not yet decided. She is currently a mathematics major and enjoys the subject. However, her passion for learning and intellectual curiosity could lead her in a variety of directions. As a freshman, she has plenty of time to explore her interests. The liberal arts experience at Georgia College will help her define her future goals and build leadership skills for whichever profession she chooses.