International spotlight: Gauthier Mubwa and UST – a perfect fit

By Katie Carroll

While growing up and attending a Catholic school in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gauthier Mubwa made the connection that would bring him to the United States and the University of St. Thomas. A classmate told Mubwa about his experiences in the United States and at St. Thomas. This correspondence, along with inspiration from his father, and a dreamlike vision of higher education in the United States, led to his journey here in May 2008.

Gauthier Mubwa

Soon after arriving, Mubwa began taking classes at the ELS Language Center on St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus. He began in an intermediate level of English language classes. His goal was to study at St. Thomas, and this goal helped him complete his time at ELS in seven months. The ELS graduation ceremony was held in December, and Mubwa started classes at St. Thomas in February.

Although he was raised in a similar culture, it was not easy for Mubwa to adjust to living in Minnesota. He already had stereotypes of Americans and American college students, which were difficult to break.

“I thought they didn’t care about foreign students and strictly had class relationships,” he said. This was different from the DRC because most African classrooms create an environment where a familylike bond is created among the students and teachers. At first this was stressful, but after meeting some kind American students through ELS communication assignments, Mubwa was able to break those stereotypes. These students also helped him deal with his stress and motivated him to work on his English language abilities.

The weather was another obstacle for Mubwa to overcome in his new environment. He would get sick when it was “cold” in the DRC, but now he has gotten used to really cold temperatures. After seeing his first snowflakes while in Minnesota, he appreciated seeing snow and realized that this is the right place for him to receive an education.

“St. Paul is the right place for studying. It is quiet, focused and concentrated with less distraction,” he said.

Two aspects of St. Thomas have impressed Mubwa greatly. First, he was surprised by the student-professor interaction. When he was sick during spring semester, one of his professors helped him by allowing him time to make up missed classes. The relationship between students and professors is thought of as a friendship, where interaction is encouraged. "In the DRC, you may not meet your professor out of class because they are so busy," he said. Strong connections to the St. Thomas community have been made in Mubwa through these relationships.

Second, St. Thomas offers great opportunities to study abroad. “Even international students have the opportunity to experience different cultures through study abroad,” Mubwa said.

As for plans, Mubwa is not in a big rush to get back to the DRC after he graduates with his degree in international business and French. He would like to work for a year in the United States and then return home to work and share his experiences. One thing he is worried about on returning is his French skills, but he will be working on these skills in classes at St. Thomas and he hopes during a J-Term study-abroad program in Paris.

Mubwa offers some advice for future and current international students: “Let Americans discover your culture. Show them your abilities and do your best in everything,” he said.