Three Malawian students have been enrolled in Norfolk schools in the US as part of an opportunity to ultimately pursue a college education in the United States after graduation.
According to Norfolk’s Daily News, southwest of Virginia , Wakisa Mtika, Charlotte Kadangwe and Annah Habinga are first-year students at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.
Joe Mtika of Norfolk, who started Norfolk Schools in Malawi told the online publication that it’s rewarding for him to see students from his native country come to learn in the community he now calls home.
Norfolk Schools in Malawi offers an education based on American curriculum in hopes that the majority of students would be accepted into American colleges and universities after taking the ACT entrance exam.
“In Malawi, there’s just fewer opportunities, (fewer) people who go to colleges or universities,” said Wakisa Mtika, who is Joe Mtika’s nephew.
To put it in perspective, Malawi has 25 colleges and universities to serve a population of 17 million. In Nebraska alone, there are 50 colleges, and the state’s population is 1.8 million.
That’s part of why Wakisa Mitka, Kadangwe and Habinga are grateful to be at Northeast this fall.
“The opportunities, the background of having college abroad is much better job-wise than having one done in Malawi because most colleges in Malawi are based off what the teacher knows,” Kadangwe said. “Here, they teach more generally, and they don’t mark you like, ‘Well this is what I said in class, so this is what you have to write on your exam,’ it’s more what you know and it’s much better.”
Kadangwe and Habinga are studying nursing at Northeast while Wakisa Mtika is studying information management.
But while the start of the school year has been exciting, they’ve also been learning to adjust to a new culture. For example, even though English is one of the official languages of Malawi, the students have had to get used to the style of English in the United States, Kadangwe said.
Habinga said she also noticed that Americans eat differently — essentially more often in smaller portions, whereas Malawians eat only at meal times. The type of food differs, too, and Wakisa Mtika has noticed differences in sporting events.
Ultimately, though, they’ve had a warm welcome.
“I love how friendly people are,” Kadangwe said. “Like at our first football game, one of Pastor Dave’s friends bought all of us food whereas in Malawi you would never find that happening.”
The students are staying with host families from Christ Lutheran Church in Norfolk. Kadangwe lives with the Rev. Dave Goehmann and his family while Habinga stays with Matt Wingert, Christ Lutheran’s director of youth ministries, and Wakisa Mtika stays with Glenna Gutz, a member of the congregation.
Goehmann and Wingert accompanied Joe Mtika to Malawi this spring to plan a mission trip to the country next summer. During that time, they briefly visited the school.
Mtika said he hoped placing the students with families would help them form connections with Norfolk.
Northeast also does plenty to help get international students accustomed to their new setting.
The college — which is trying to grow its international student population — hosts an international student orientation before classes starting to answer questions and introduce them to services. Northeast also hired a full-time English as a Second Language instructor this year to aid students, and staff check in with students regularly.
“We try to get them as comfortable as we can as students before they become students so they hit the ground running with classes on that first week,” said Pam Saalfeld, director of the college’s Center for Global Engagement.
The Malawi students said they’re beginning to feel more comfortable in their classes, and they hope to eventually use their education to help their country.
Wakisa Mtika is still figuring out what career he would like to pursue, but Habinga wants to be an audiologist and has a passion for music. Kadangwe wants to work for a while as a nurse before she becomes a neurologist specifically because Malawi recently lost its only neurologist.
But in the meantime, they’ll be an asset to Norfolk and Northeast Community College, Joe Mtika and Saalfeld said.
“We have some students here at Northeast who have never gone much further than Lincoln or Omaha and definitely have never gone to another country,” Saalfeld said. “This is a way that they can experience another country with the limitations they might have by getting to know these young people like Annah and Charlotte and Wakisa and talking to them about the culture and sharing in that.
“So it’s a good way of getting our traditional students to understand and expand their cultural horizons.”
The students can do the same for their host families. Plus, with all the community support Joe Mtika has seen for Norfolk Schools in Malawi, the students’ presence shows people firsthand the difference they’re making.
“You know you’re helping people, but imagine if you met somebody, one person who says, ‘Gosh, you know that money you sent, it benefited me in this way,” Joe Mtika said. “I mean that just feels like, ‘Wow, I’m doing something.”Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :