Life is about learning from others
As Jekow Olieny walks to his classes and meets friends on campus, adjusting to the cold Iowa winter isn't the only thing on his mind.
Rather, Olieny, a junior family services major from southern Sudan, is anxiously waiting to see whether his home country will be divided into two separate countries. While voting has taken place for officially dividing the country, the final results won't be announced until Feb. 6.
"I speak to friends and family members still in Sudan, and they are excited for the results," said Olieny. "We are hoping it can be divided into separate regions, because that means we would have more freedom... independence... a better life."
Sudan, torn by a civil war since 1983, is divided into two parts, largely due to religious reasons. The northern Sudan region is primarily made up of Muslims, while the non-Muslim region of southern Sudan is smaller and at risk of being taken over by the northern region.
A southern Sudanese native from the city of Maiwut, Olieny has experienced the scary reality of war affecting him, his family and friends.
"Life is about learning from others, and knowing that everyone doesn't experience it in the same way. Today will be different from tomorrow and so will the people who are in it."
-Jekow Olieny, UNI family services major from Sudan
"Where I used to be, it wasn't good enough," said Olieny. "It was a decent life, but when war struck it wasn't good enough for me. My life is better here. I won't forget about my friends and family back home, but I am fortunate to be here and to be safe."
His journey from Sudan to the U.S. wasn't easy. Olieny, his sister, his brother and his wife escaped the turbulent conditions of war and went to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. From there, they were rescued by the United Nations. They then boarded a plane to Baltimore, Maryland, where they stayed for a month before moving to Cedar Rapids. Cedar Rapids is home to a relative who came to the U.S. from Sudan, and helped Olieny and his siblings with translations, transportation, finding a home and learning the way of life in Iowa.
Olieny stayed in Cedar Rapids, where he attended and graduated from Washington High School in 2004. After graduation, he went to Iowa Central Community College and pursued his associate's degree, then later transferred to Mount Mercy University before coming to UNI in 2010.
"I came to UNI because it was a smaller-sized public school, and I thought it would be easier to meet people and make friends," said Olieny.
Olieny has a unique perspective on his life in the U.S. and hopes everyone appreciates what they have here, but also looks around and acknowledges the world outside the U.S.
"I am grateful that I'm here at UNI," he said. "An important thing I wish everyone would remember is there are differences outside of your own area. There are people who are experiencing so many things and we all need to keep in mind. I'd really like to create awareness about the differences in the world around us.
"Life is about learning from others, and knowing that everyone doesn't experience it in the same way," he said. "Today will be different from tomorrow and so will the people who are in it."