An Interview with Teresa Duru-Onweni
By EducationUSA Adviser Elisabeth Bloxam
For high school students in Belgium and across the world, summer means vacation. Time to recover from final exams, to unplug from high school drama, and maybe to work a student job or take a family holiday.
Not so for Teresa Duru-Onweni, a sixteen-year-old Belgian student from Aalst who received the 2019 EducationUSA Academy Scholarship to attend a college preparatory program in the United States. As an EducationUSA Academy Scholar, Teresa spent four weeks in July and August attending intensive language and college prep classes at the EducationUSA Academy at Diablo Valley College.
Before applying to the EducationUSA Academy scholarship, Teresa had never heard of Diablo Valley College. Now, however, she’s an expert on what sets DVC apart. “Diablo Valley College is a community college in Concord, California,” she explained to our EducationUSA Adviser. “It has a big campus and is well renowned for transferring its students to UC (University of California) colleges such as UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, and more.”
Diablo Valley College is currently the only community college that hosts an EducationUSA Academy program — and the only campus on the West Coast. Its location in the San Francisco Bay area provided opportunities for Teresa and her fellow program participants to visit the campuses of UC Berkeley, the California Academy of Science, University of San Francisco, and Stanford University, and to see some of the United States’ most renowned landmarks.
“On the second week of the Academy, we went camping for three days in Yosemite National Park. Personally, that was one of the highlights of the program,” Teresa remembered. “There was no WiFi or TV so we had to entertain ourselves. At the end of each day, we would all sit around the campfire and tell scary stories. (…) Since we were always together, you would talk to people you had never really conversed with. This camping trip allowed us to grow closer as a group.”
During the four-week program, students also biked across the Golden Gate Bridge, visited a local tech company, and toured Alcatraz. In addition to living with local families in homestays, their immersive experience included typical teenage activities: shopping at a local mall, spending a day at a theme park, and watching a baseball game.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games: EducationUSA Academy students kept busy inside the classroom too. Teresa explained: “I attended morning Academic & Writing Skills (A&W) class and an afternoon Presentation & Communication Skills (P&C) class. I participated in class discussions, college workshops about the US education system, admission requirements, and about how to choose a college major.”
“In the Presentation & Communication Skills class, we had to form groups of three and come up with a new, unique, and realistic product or service that we would have to present in front of the class. I enjoyed working on this project because we got to be creative and original. I also liked working in groups because everybody had something interesting to bring to the table.”
As the only Belgian student in her program, Teresa served as a cultural ambassador of her country. This could sometimes prove challenging since, as she remembered, “not a lot of people knew what or where Belgium was!” So how did Teresa introduce her fellow program participants to Belgium? “I talked about what we are good at, like making chocolate and beer, but also our football team. One of the fondest memories I have from the program is when Pablo (from Spain), Adam (from Ouzbekistan), Muhammad (from Nigeria), and I would argue about which country had the best football team. It, sometimes, got intense but it was all in good fun!”
This wasn’t the first time that Teresa had served as a cultural ambassador of her country. In 2018, she participated in a ten-day Women2Women exchange program in Boston with young women from around the world. Still, her time at DVC brought some new experiences — including living with an American host family (as opposed to in student dorms) and trying more “big and greasy” American food.
Although homesickness can be a challenge for exchange program participants, it was no problem for Teresa. “Leaving San Francisco was harder than leaving Belgium!”
“I will miss the people the most — I made the best of friends in California.” Teresa cited the EducationUSA Academy staff — “[they were] amazing!” — and her fellow program participants as one of the biggest highlights of her time in California. “Even though the participants came from different parts of the world, we got along so well. They were like my family away from home. There were never any fights or someone who felt like an outsider. It was really unexpected because we were a big group. We still talk every day and have Skype video calls every other week. It is a bit hard because of the time differences but we are making it work.”
Back from her summer in the U.S., Teresa is preparing for her final year of secondary school at the Collège Saint-Michel in Brussels. With a taste of college campuses in Massachusetts and California, she is now considering applying to college in the United States.
What is Teresa’s advice for students? “It will be the best decision of your year … so just apply!”
The EducationUSA Advising Team in Belgium would like to thank the EducationUSA Academy at Diablo Valley College, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and particularly the U.S. Embassy to Belgium for their support of the EducationUSA Academy Scholarship Program.
The EducationUSA Academy is a pre-college academic enrichment program for international high school students offering specialized college preparatory content, college-level writing workshops, campus visits, and cultural activities. Students gain an insider’s perspective on higher education in the United States while getting the chance to experience and enjoy campus life. To learn more about the EducationUSA Academy Program and scholarships available for Belgian students, please visit www.educationusa.be/edusaacademy.
The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the views of the EducationUSA Advising Center or of the U.S. Department of State.