An initiative that seemed spontaneous a little more than a year ago has blossomed into a rewarding partnership for McPherson College and students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This fall 11 new students, all originally from the Congo, began classes at McPherson College joining five others who started classes last spring.
The effort to bring students from the Congo to McPherson College began in 2016 when Matondo Filawo visited the college. Mr. Matondo became acquainted with the college when he met President Michael Schneider while attending the University of Pennsylvania.
“Matondo was passionate about getting Congolese students into a small Christian school and he liked our career-focused approach. He showed up on campus one day and we started talking about how this might work,” President Schneider said.
A team of staff members assists the students through the McPherson College application process, the federal government visa process for students, as well as offers mentoring to help the students feel at home and to make connections with other students and alumni. The new partnership seems to be working so well that 10 more students are expected for the spring semester.
“It’s been a very positive experience for the college,” Christi Hopkins, vice president of enrollment services, said. “The Congolese students bring international diversity to our campus and give all of us an opportunity to learn about another culture.”
In return, McPherson College offers the students access to an education that would be difficult to obtain in their homeland, in a safe community, with the hope that the students will make a difference in the world after leaving McPherson College.
“I’ve come here for an education and to make my family proud,” Lionel Ibonga, a math and business major, said. “Our families have worked hard to get us here and we want to do well. That’s no different from other students.”
There are some challenges for the students, according to Jen Pollard who serves as a mentor for the students. Among them are the lack of travel and transportation options for the students, housing during break times and not having parents around to help get settled in.
“Definitely not having a car is a challenge,” Joyce Muhizi, a history and political science major, said. “Coming here and not having all the stuff you need to set up a dorm room can be hard. But everybody here was so welcoming and wanted to help. It’s nerve-racking coming to a place you’ve never even heard of, but the support from the college has been great.”
One thing that has not been a challenge has been the students’ interest in getting involved on campus. For example, Joyce served as a Student Engagement Activities Leaders during orientation this year. Additionally, the students speak and/or understand three to five languages and have not experienced any language barriers.
“These are confident, articulate, smart students and a real asset to our campus and community,” Pollard said.
Pollard said the college supports the students by scheduling regular trips to Wal-mart to help them get school supplies and arranges for rides to and from the airport. In addition, monthly cultural outings are planned for the students to learn more about Kansas and the culture here.
“It’s so fun to have them on campus,” President Schneider said. “Forget about where they are from, they are just great students.”