Reunited: graduate from Ethiopia relishes her mom’s presence at commencement

Roza Azene ‘18 graduated magna cum laude with honors after adjusting to life at Brandeis

roza azene and her mother

Roza Muluken Azene ’18 was keenly aware of Commencement’s concurrence with Mother’s Day this year.

For Azene, a native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, graduation marked just the third time in four years that she’s seen her mother, Muchit Reta, who made a 27-hour journey to Waltham last week to see her daughter receive a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics.

“The distance and time apart has been very hard and challenging for both of us. Getting my diploma this Sunday definitely feels more significant given that it’s also Mother’s Day. It’s such a great coincidence,” Azene said.

Muchit, who works as a math teacher in Ethiopia, encouraged her daughter to pursue educational opportunities in the United States after a family friend recommended Brandeis.

Azene heeded her mother’s encouragement and applied to Brandeis. She was subsequently accepted into the Class of 2018 and was named a Lawrence A. Wien International Scholar. The Wien Scholarship Program provides four years of free tuition to a select group of international students. Since its inception in 1958, the program has brought over 860 scholars from 112 countries to Brandeis.

Even so, Azene was hesitant to leave home and face a new country, language and culture on her own. Today, she remembers the moment her plane took off from Addis Ababa en route to a new adventure.

“I remember sitting on the plane, waiting on the tarmac to takeoff,” Azene said. “And I remember saying to myself ‘What are you doing? What have you done?’”

Azene credits Brandeis’ community for welcoming her on campus in the fall of 2014 and making her transition easier. She made friends and enjoyed new student orientation. That said, she also experienced homesickness and culture shock.

Cold New England winters, plus calculating time and distance were some of the first things Azene had to get used to. For one, Ethiopia has an eight hour time difference with Boston. It also operates on a 13-month calendar. Adapting to a new way of measuring time made Azene late to meetings and classes in her first semester.

Though she now has excellent command of English, her skills with the language were not yet fully developed when she arrived on campus in 2014, either.

“I took English at school in Ethiopia, but it’s different learning it in a classroom versus in day to day life in an English-speaking country,” Azene said. “It was frustrating at times in class when I’d know the answer to a question but I wouldn’t raise my hand because I was nervous about speaking out loud. That was really difficult at times, as I was very outspoken and had always been raising my hand at home.”

That said, Azene slowly found her comfort zone at Brandeis and excelled. Despite the distance from home, she stayed in close contact with her mother, who continued to provide her with encouragement. Azene also credits her fellow Wein Scholars, and the program staff, with helping her acclimate to her new surroundings and offering support.

Then came Azene’s passion for economics. Azene served as a undergraduate departmental representative (UDR) and a Brandeis Undergraduate Group Study (BUGS) tutor for economics. She even served as an econometrics tutor while she was taking the class.

Azene won this year’s Outstanding UDR award, the BNC Presidential award and graduated with honors and magna cum laude on Sunday. Later this summer, she will move to Washington, D.C. and work for Edgeworth Economics where she will be a consultant. Azene is considering graduate school in the future, and maybe even a return to Ethiopia, but is looking forward to getting some work experience in the Nation’s Capital.

That said, Azene was glad to have the opportunity to celebrate her accomplishments so far with her mother.

“Commencement is special, but it’s mostly about my mother,” said Azene. “I dedicate the day to her. She’s done so much for me. Both of us have sacrificed a lot in the last four years. She usually doesn’t say too much, but I know she had a lot of feelings about seeing me graduate.”

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