By Kadiatou Hawa Berthe
My name is Kadiatou Hawa Berthe, an exchange student from Mali, located in Western Africa. I’m 15 years old and a junior at Kingsland High School. I have two sisters, Korotoumou, who is 18 years old and Doussou, who is 12 years old. I’m Muslim. My mother, Hawa Diawara works in the Treasury of Mali and my dad, Brema Berthe works in a German company located in Mali. I live in the big city of Sikasso that has more than 345,000 people. Bambara is the native language of Mali, and it means “Hippopotamus.” The capital of Mali is Bamako, which means “the crocodile river.” Mali is known for its mysterious city, Timbuktu — the city of 333 saints. More than 50 languages are spoken in Mali. Its official language is French because it was a French colony from whom it declared its independence in 1960. I came to the United States in August. Mali has 1,241,238 square kilometers distributed in 10 regions and the capital district Bamako (the city of three caimans). Mali is one of the hottest countries in the world, with 65% of its land being desert or semi-desert. I now live in Spring Valley with my host family, Jennifer Ronnenberg and her daughter, Gabrielle Ronnenberg near our school. Jennifer works at the Pollution Control Center in Rochester, and my host sister Gabrielle is a senior at Kingsland who works at the local nursing home. We walk to school together.
Before I came to Minnesota I was in Wisconsin with my ex-local coordinator, as the day I flew to America my host family suddenly changed their minds about hosting me. I was already in the airport when they called the staff of the Yes Program to say that their daughter had come back home so they no longer had room for me. I didn’t know what was happening until my local coordinator and his wife arrived at the airport, and I temporarily moved in with my ex-coordinator. I was confused at first, and asked my ex-local coordinator, “Are you really my host family?” She then told me the story. I stayed with her for a week until they found a new host family. When I finally got my new host family, I moved in with my new coordinator in Cherry Grove while the family prepared my bedroom and signed all of the paperwork. I’m glad to have a new host family and a new local coordinator. I was frustrated to be one of the last people to get matched with a host family because of all of the hard work I put in to get here. I took an Eltis test four times in two weeks, which is unusual for most exchange students. Every foreign exchange student in my program must take this test to prove how well they know English, which I thought was a hard test. I became an alternate and I was not sure if I would come to the U.S. But the last test I took I had a better score than someone who was chosen, so I replaced them. I passed all of the challenging steps in my passage and now I’m in the United States of America.
I chose to become an exchange student because I think it is a great thing to come to another continent to not only share your culture, but to learn from other cultures. Also to learn to become independent and live without my family, because when you are in your home country your parents often decide everything for you. I also chose to become an exchange student to end the stereotypes that some people have of Africa. Some people think that all African people are poor and uncivilized. They also make mistakes thinking that we live with animals. And I chose to become an exchange student to improve my English, and even though I’m not the greatest at English, I’ve been improving since my arrival. The amelioration of my English will help me with my project because when I go back to my country I want to create an English club in which I will help people learn English. Becoming an exchange student will also help me to learn to live with people of a different skin color and race. I’ve also been discovering a lot of new food, some of which I didn’t like at the beginning because everything was new and challenging for me. I love the food now and I’m getting fat.
American culture is very different from Malian culture. In Mali, people often share their meals on the same plate, and often eat with their hands (clean, of course). In Mali, depending on the family, children don’t talk when they eat with adults. A child must lower their head and not look an older person in the eye, even when being spoken to. This is considered a sign of respect and a child must respect not only their parents, but also all other older people. The father is the chief of the family and makes all major decisions. Wearing short clothes is not allowed in Mali, as 90% of the population is Muslim.
Spring Valley is very quiet compared to my city and sometimes it is like nobody lives here. In Mali, kids don’t drive until they are 18 years old. And in Mali, I usually don’t eat at school because we are given two hours for a lunch break. Malian people eat a lot of rice and meat. Malian people are sociable and friendly. With the country being mostly Muslim, polygamy is pretty common, where a man can marry up to four wives. Greeting is considered in Mali a sign of politeness. In my country, the punishment of a child is not just with his parent, but by all of the society. In Mali I take a shower three times every day, but in USA every two days. One of the things I want to do in the USA is experience Black Friday. I also want to visit more states like New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Texas. I also want to buy a bass clarinet, which I just started to learn. I love it and want to bring it back to my country and continue to play it because we don’t have bass clarinets in Mali. I also just started basketball and want to became a physician in the future.