Turning 24 In Addis

By Meki Shewangizaw

A week before graduation I had a panic attack when I came to the conclusion that the major I picked was not what I wanted. It wasn’t really a surprise. Throughout the four years, I knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t enjoy what I was studying. I tried to comfort myself by saying I would just figure it out along the way a lazy mindset that I too often relied on.

Panicking, I met with my professor after class to tell him about my problem, including whether I should cancel an interview scheduled the following week for a fellowship in D.C. that I knew deep down wasn’t what I wanted.  After seeing the look on my face, the first thing he said was, “Don’t panic, it happens. Your four years weren’t a waste, but it’s time to sit down and figure out what you want to do.”

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And that’s what I did. I always knew the therapeutic benefits of writing, but never have I sat down and written what I wanted out of life. I spent the next hour writing my likes, dislikes, skills, what I needed to improve, what I was passionate about, and what I wanted to learn. It came down to two areas of interest: immigrants and children’s education. The next day I canceled the interview (which everyone warned me not to do), some even thought was ridiculous (thanks, Mom!), but it felt great.


Like many post-grad students, I found myself sitting in front of a computer with 20 Indeed tabs open with a list of jobs filtered under the categories of refugee, immigration, and education, but I couldn’t find any that I wanted.


As my Google search continued, I found a refugee resettlement agency 10 minutes away from my house. There were no openings but one thing I learned from my brother is that it never hurts to ask. The worst that will happen is that they’ll say no (thanks, Leul!). I sent an email to the executive director for any internship opportunities at the agency that would allow me to learn more about the refugee process.


After an interview with her, I started my internship for the summer, which eventually led to an AmeriCorps position. I absolutely loved my job. Every day I got to meet clients from around the world whose strength and kindness I admired as they started their new lives in the United States.  


About halfway through the year, I went back to my piece of paper and started to think about how I could incorporate children’s education into my career. After some brainstorming and ideas were thrown around with my friend Maheder, we created our own charity, Tesfa, which supports children’s education in Ethiopia by providing school supplies and uniforms to primary school students. Creating Tesfa has introduced me to so many people in the Charlotte area who are willing to give their support to help it grow. It has also put me in situations I would never expect to be in, like speaking about growing up in the U.S. as an Ethiopian-American to a room full of 7th graders (Thanks, Scott!).


As my AmeriCorps year of service was nearing its end and I was looking for what to do next, I went back to that piece of paper where I wrote about wanting to work in Ethiopia. I mentioned the idea to my coworker, who pushed me to look for opportunities (Thanks, Gabriella!) and to my friend who later told me about the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship (Thanks, Luwam!).


Fast forward and I’m here in Addis writing this blog on the eve of my birthday, three days after receiving a letter from the IRS that Tesfa has been approved for its nonprofit status (Thanks, Amsalu, Sara and Matt!).


It’s crazy to think that a conversation I had with a professor two years ago has impacted how I make any major decision (Thanks, Joe!). I’ve learned to no longer be a passive participant in my own life. And of course, the many “thank yous” riddled in this blog are credit to the community of people I am lucky to call my friends and family.


So here’s to 24, I’m excited for what she’ll bring.