MasterCard Foundation scholarship allows Rwandan student to attend ASU

Chris Nyarwaya, a freshman from Rwanda, attends ASU as one of 10 MasterCard Foundation Scholars. (Photo by Tyler Griffin)

When electrical engineering freshman Chris Nyarwaya saw ASU for the first time, he was overwhelmed. It was the result of many years of hard work.

Nyarwaya’s arrival in the U.S. marked the first time he left Eastern Africa. He was born in Burundi and grew up in Kigali, Rwanda.

Nyarwaya is one of 10 students from seven African countries to attend ASU as part of the University’s partnership with the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program.

During the next seven years, ASU will receive funds to provide scholarships to academically talented African students.

“I used to go to the library at the local (U.S.) embassy to study for the SATs,” Nyarwaya said. “The education adviser told me about the scholarship, and I immediately applied.”

It was 3 a.m. when Nyarwaya received an email saying he had been chosen for the program.

“I couldn’t shout of course, because everybody was sleeping, but I wanted to,” Nyarwaya said. “The next day, I told my family. They were so happy, we were screaming (and) jumping.”

Attending college in the U.S. has always been his dream, Nyarwaya said.

“There are universities in Rwanda, but the difference is huge,” he said. “This is such a great school. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Nyarwaya said he has been adapting to the different culture since he arrived on Aug. 18.

“You grow up watching movies, listening to music (and) watching TV shows,” he said. “Everything’s expected yet everything’s new.”

He has always been interested in math and science, Nyarwaya said.

“I am very good at math so engineering was a natural path for me,” he said. “I chose electrical (engineering) because when I go back to my country, I will get a job more easily and help my family.”

Without the MasterCard Foundation scholarship, Nyarwaya said he would not have been able to study abroad.

“I am so lucky,” he said. “It was just too much money. No way I could have come otherwise.”

International Student Service assistant Jennifer Rode, who works with the 10 scholarship recipients, said she helps them any way she can.

Nyarwaya will have a bright future, Rode said.

“He’s a promising, intelligent individual,” she said. “He will take a lot from ASU but also contribute to the diversity and inclusivity of the University.”

Rwanda’s three official languages are Kinyarwanda, French and English, but Nyarwaya did not practice English until high school.

“I am much more fluent in French,” he said. “The first year of high school was very hard, but I adapted easily. Now English is not a problem.”

This is the longest he has gone without seeing his family.

“I still talk to them through Skype,” he said. “I miss my country, my friends and my family but I have to continue (and) find my own path.”

All the people he has met have been very welcoming, Nyarwaya said.

“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “My classmates, the guys at the dorm, everybody’s great.”

Nyarwaya’s roommate, computer systems engineering freshman Jianlong Yan, said Nyarwaya deserves the scholarship.

“He puts his studies first; he’s always at the library,” Yan said. “He’s a very nice and dedicated guy.”

Nyarwaya is getting used to life away from Rwanda, Yan said.

“It’s hard for him. He gets homesick,” Yan said. “He misses his family and friends, but he’s having a good time here.”

The knowledge he acquires here will help him better his country, Nyarwaya said.

“In America, everything’s bigger,” he said. “We are a developing country and we have so much to learn from countries like America.”

Aerospace engineering freshman Zemichael Hailu, from Ethiopia, is another recipient of the MasterCard Foundation scholarship and good friends with Nyarwaya.

Although their countries are very different, he and Nyarwaya can relate, Hailu said.

“Even with this difference, we understand each other,” he said. “This is a big experience.”

Nyarwaya said he is excited to be at ASU.

“I’m just trying to live my life to the fullest,” he said. “I want to cherish these four years of my life. They will be great.”


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