Congolese student crosses hemispheres in pursuit of success

Congolese student crosses hemispheres in pursuit of success

Congolese student crosses hemispheres in pursuit of success
October 11
15:21 2017

The chilly weather took him by surprise on May 6, 2013. His friends back home told him it would be warm. However, he didn’t mind it — all he could focus his attention on was the new opportunity around him in the U.S.

Biology senior Yannick Gambembo took the 18-hour plane ride from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa to the United States almost four years ago, but he recalls his trip from Congo to the United States like it was yesterday.

“I know the exact day because it was a beautiful experience,” Gambembo said. “It was emotional.”

Gambembo started his education at UNT in spring 2016, coming in as a junior. In his mind, the main reasons why he chose UNT were simple.

“To me, it was a situation where you don’t really have much choice in where you’re going,” Gambembo said.

He was first introduced to UNT when he heard about the older brother of a friend who received a Ph.D. in business from UNT. Gambembo felt that the opportunities he had heard about in the U.S. were infinitely more promising than what was available to him in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Coming from a family who prioritizes education, Gambembo decided the best decision was to apply to UNT and live with his friend’s brother until he gained enough solid ground under his feet to live by himself.

“As an international student, you must look at many things before you make any decisions,” Gambembo said. “You can really only go places where there are people to guide you.”

Prior to UNT, Gambembo took English classes and earned his associate’s degree in science at Richland Community College, but education systems are very different in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had already completed six years of medical school at Protestant University in the Democratic Republic of Congo after years of Catholic boarding school.

Gambembo said the outlets of entertainment are limited during boarding school, but he enjoyed the structure of it and the relationships he built there. He said that the friends he made during those years are the same people he keeps in contact with today.

“The teaching system from the United States and the Congo is very different,” Gambembo said. “In Congo they keep you busy the entire day. Class may start at 8 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. You have breaks from 12-1 p.m. and for longer classes, they have breaks in-between.”

Gambembo hasn’t traveled back home in four years, but he does get to see his family when they travel to visit him every two years.

A plane ticket for Gambembo to travel home and back alone would cost around $2,800. As an international student, he pays $13,000 per semester, and Gambembo takes all of this into consideration and knows he must spend his money wisely.

“Even here, doing something fun is expensive,” Gambembo said.

Gambembo now lives in his own apartment and shares it with roommates from Austin, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“The beautiful thing about people from different backgrounds is you learn from them,” Gambembo said. “You have another perspective of life and you learn how they think and how they see the world.”

Computer science junior Bobby Hill is one of Gambembo’s roommates who has been living with him since August 2016.

“He’s awesome,” Hill said. “He’s on the phone all the time with family and friends. You can tell because he is speaking French.”

Along with English and French, Gambembo speaks Lingala, Swahili and Kikongo, which are just a few of the many native languages of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gambembo said back at his home school, the more fluently you speak French, the more you will succeed. Although both his parents speak over five languages, Gambembo said this is why his parents only spoke to him in French.

Hill said that Gambembo is studying constantly, and that the roommates usually meet up when they’re in the kitchen and joke around with each other. But other than that, Hill said Gambembo will only ask questions of other people, rather than talk about himself.

“The first time I ever met him, he said we were going to share everything,” Hill said. “He’s talkative and caring about other people.”

Gambembo keeps pictures of his friends and family close with him. He holds a photo of himself and his classmates the day they finished their final exams — they have their arms linked around each other with wide smiles.

Gambembo said he was a “specialist” for organizing surprises for birthdays and that if people were trying to plan parties, picnics or other gatherings, they would seek him out.

“Back home I was the guy everybody knew — I guess I was a cool guy,” Gambembo said, “When I left it was surprising for a lot of people. I didn’t tell everybody I was leaving.”

Gambembo is now employed and juggles work along with school. Media arts sophomore Alejandro Rios is one of Gambembos’ coworkers in retail dining for the Union. Rios and Gambembo spend a lot of time together during the week while they’re working.

“Yannick is a great guy and is pretty fun to joke around with when I see him,” Rios said. “Working with him is quite honestly one of the highlights of my week.”

Even after working together week after week, Gambembo has continued to impress Rios with endless knowledge of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gambembo said he will eventually return home when he is a doctor, and he even considers running for political office in the future.

“Yannick’s ability to grasp political issues greatly impress me, and it’s something I rarely see in my own peers from here,” Rios said.

Featured Image: Yannick Gambembo is a student at UNT from the Congo. Gambembo is majoring in biology, works in the Union and speaks five different languages. Victoria Nguyen

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Anna Orr

Anna Orr

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