Humans of Maryville: Penina Nikundana

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Where are you from?

“Tanzania, which is in East Africa.”

Who is Penina?

“I am an African, educated, loving, passionate and experienced person. I go out of my way to make sure everyone is included in everything that I do.”

What makes you feel like you’re more experienced than most?

“I didn’t grow up with the amount of privilege a lot of people have here. My parents had to pay for my school because there isn’t free, good education in Tanzania. I grew up on a farm, and I was helping out from a very young age. A lot of kids here have everything set out for them. They have public education and parents to look after them. As for me, I grew up in a big family, so my parents didn’t think of me. They just put me in the category as one of their kids.”

How does Tanzania differ from Missouri?

“East Africa isn’t very diverse. You look around and see people of one skin tone. Coming here, you hear a lot about racism. When I first heard it, I wondered what there was to be racist towards. I learned that there are different people of color all around. The fact that they don’t get along is crazy to me.”

What was your education like?

“I grew up in a small village, so all of the teachers knew you, your parents and all of your siblings. For me, teachers were like my second parents. They could discipline me and hit me; they could do whatever they wanted. They would push me to do my best.”

“Whenever I was late for class, I’d get hit with a broom or a ruler, anything they could find because they knew me to that extent.”

How did your school in Tanzania prepare you for Maryville?

“The education that I’m getting now is better than I used to get. At the same time, it prepared me for the people that were going to be around me. It prepared me to think that I couldn’t do certain things just because someone else was doing it; I had to keep myself on track to always remember where I came from. I can’t do anything wrong because I’m getting all of this for free and I can’t lose it.”

What motivates you?

“My mom often wakes me up and pushes me to realize that I have to focus on school because it’s the only way to get me to where I want to be, and show the world that I can do it despite my background. I keep remembering that I will have money once I’m finished with college and that I’ll have a better life and can give my parents a better life.”

Why Maryville?

“When we came to America, I didn’t see a lot of people from my country. I’ve always wanted to meet people from different countries in general. When I was visiting Maryville, I realized it was a very diverse school. They have an African organization and a lot of multicultural opportunities and I was impressed.”

Did Maryville reach your expectations?

“In some ways, yes. I originally thought it would be a more diverse campus than just international students. It is diverse, just not as much as I thought it would be. But, I love how everyone is accepting. Everyone is so welcoming and you can never be alone; you’re meeting new people every day.”

What was your family life like?

“I grew up with 8 siblings. It was hard growing up because it’s hard to provide for a big family, especially outside of America. My parents worked harder than most families in the village to feed all of us, make sure we have clothes and they made sure we stayed out of trouble.”

What was your social life like back home?

“I was shy. Since I had a lot of siblings, I made sure to learn from their mistakes in the friendships that they had. I only had one friend, but the village was small so that’s all I needed.”

What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?

“To not take everything for granted. I moved here and became a part of the society, and I didn’t think about what my older siblings went through growing up and what they had to do to make sure I was alive and well. I would tell myself to try harder in all that I did because I had a lot given to me.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

“Before college started, I wanted to be a history teacher and go back to my home and start my own school. Since I’m majoring in accounting now, I don’t know what to expect, but I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”

Have an intriguing story you want to share? Contact me at mmaislin1@live.maryville.edu so it can possibly be heard.

Penina Nikundana spending time doing homework in Kaldi’s. Photo courtesy of Macie Maislin.


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