**This story, written by Gary Glancy, appears courtesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal
While most Americans’ lasting impressions of Ethiopia have revolved around images of famine and poverty, Converse College has had its own symbol of the African country the past four years: two vibrant, healthy achievers determined to make a significant impact on the world.
Friends since sixth grade, Yosabeth (Yosi) Weldemedhin and Mahlet (Mahal) Woldetsadik were raised in affluent families in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, the geographic, cultural and political center of Ethiopia, with a growing population of 2 million people. Four years ago, Weldemedhin and Woldetsadik decided to attend college abroad together. Now, the recent graduates are highly sought-after jewels of the Converse family.
Weldemedhin, who majored in political science and economics with a minor in creative writing at Converse, is headed to graduate school at Princeton University on a full scholarship plus $20,000 – the school’s highest award. Woldetsadik, a math and chemistry major with minors in creative writing and biology, also received a full scholarship and $28,000 to the nuclear chemistry Ph.D. program within the Georgetown University Medical School.
Clearly, they represent the antithesis of the stereotype.
“People have so many misconceptions about Africa, especially Ethiopia,” said Weldemedhin, who is passionate about the subject. “I’ve seen those (television) commercials of the starvation and the famine. But I think it’s possible to change perceptions, so I try to educate. It’s not really about being offended.”
Imagine the emotional challenge of leaving family and friends behind to attend school on another continent. It was tough for Woldetsadik and Weldemedhin.
“It was very difficult,” Woldetsadik said. “We’re both very close with our parents. But if you’re growing up in a developing country, you don’t get the opportunities like you do here. So we were just really motivated to come to the U.S. and get the best education. It was very hard, but we tried to stay strong. And our parents tried to be strong – saying, ‘You have to do this’ – even though it was very hard for them, too.”