September 27, 2023

Changing Cultures

When UMW sophomore Yoel Kidane first arrived in the United States at the age of 14, he spoke only conversational English. Adjusting to the American culture and English language was his first hurdle.

UMW's Student Transition Program helped sophomore Yoel Kidane adjust to college life.
UMW’s Student Transition Program helped sophomore Yoel Kidane adjust to college life.

Just three years later, he was applying to colleges, setting himself up to be the first of his siblings to attend a university in the U.S. When Kidane received his acceptance letter from UMW, it came with an invitation that made all the difference.

Diving into UMW’s Student Transition Program (STP), which begins with a five-week on-campus stint the summer before freshman year, gave the East Africa native the launching pad he needed to support his college experience. Now well into his second year at UMW, Kidane has found his niche as a political science major and member of the club soccer team.

“STP helped me discover the school,” said Kidane, who plans to major in political science and minor in yet another language – French. (He also speaks Italian, as well as his native tongue, Tigrinya.) “I was able to meet professors in different departments, ask questions and see what college classes were like.”

Through the yearlong program, designed to support first-generation and underrepresented students, Kidane joined a cohort of first-year students who lived in the residence halls, met with support staff, learned the layout of campus and even took introductory courses in their intended major. Going into his first official year of college later that summer, Kidane already had collected a peer group of friends and four credits toward his degree.

“STP helped Yoel adjust and understand what it takes to be successful as a student,” said Justin Wilkes, director of the transition program and Kidane’s advisor. “He came with a mindset to work hard but didn’t necessarily know what that looked like or how to apply it until he went through the program.”

Now nearly halfway through his UMW experience, Kidane is on a roll, both in the classroom and on the field.

Growing up in Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, when he wasn’t in school or at church, he spent much of his free time playing soccer. He pursued his passion for the sport as a student at Northern Virginia’s Herndon High School, where he played varsity, and now at UMW, where he’s building lasting relationships with his club teammates.

Most importantly, coming from a country that mandates education only through age 13, he feels like he’s done his job setting the stage for his younger siblings.

“I have to be a role model for my brothers and sister,” said Kidane, who knows that his experience could impact their own decisions about college. “I want to set an example for them.”