Tell us about yourself (your full name, where you went to school, what you studied, hobbies, where are you from…etc.)
My name is Danait Yemane and I am a first-generation Eritrean college graduate originally from Seattle, Washington. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland about two months ago with a bachelor of arts in Public Health Studies and French. At Hopkins, I was involved in various student organizations over the course of undergrad but primarily spent my time in three groups in particular. I was the president of the Eritrean and Ethiopian society on campus, the director of events and logistics for the Johns Hopkins Alumni Student Ambassadors, and a volunteer for the Refugee Youth Project where I worked one on one with Eritrean or Ethiopian refugees who speak Tigrinya. Apart from my school groups, I worked as a research assistant at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health for various studies occurring in Baltimore and abroad. Outside of academics, I love to travel. I studied abroad in 8 countries over the course of undergrad all covered by my school through scholarships and financial awards I received for the programs. The countries I studied abroad in were Uganda, Mali, India, South Africa, Brazil, Eritrea, France, and now Japan. My other hobbies include learning new languages, drawing, and playing sports (volleyball, basketball, and soccer are my favorites).
How would you describe your college experience?
I would describe my college experience as one of the most challenging yet rewarding times of my life. I changed my major and career plans for a variety of reasons—familial pressures, travel experiences, academics, and my own personal reflections…all to end up with a major that I love and more clarity about how I hope to contribute to the world in the future. College also was the best social experience of my life. I made friends and connections with people from all over the world. I also gained lifelong mentors and advisors who supported me through my academic struggles as well as personal hardships. Despite some of the obstacles, overall, I would describe my experience as extremely positive.
How did being Eritrean impact your college experience?
Being Eritrean impacted my college experience in several ways. For starters, I was always underrepresented in any classroom or job that I entered. Despite being in the DMV, where the Ethiopian population is second to that of Ethiopia itself, Hopkins, and Baltimore in general, did not have many Ethiopian or Eritrean students at all. I had to explain where I was from and why my name was pronounced the way that it was daily to people who had never heard of my country, language, or culture. Although tiresome, this provided me with a unique opportunity to educate people on my background and customs.
Why did you choose your college?
I chose Johns Hopkins for a few reasons. I knew I wanted to study public health in college and learned that Hopkins was the top school for the field. I also was originally pre-med when I applied to college and thought going to Hopkins would give me great exposure to the medical school/hospital which are also top for medicine. Unrelated to academics—I was interested in Hopkins because Baltimore seemed like the perfect city. It’s conveniently accessible to many other major cities on the east coast (DC, Philly, and New York for example), and its demographics were opposite to where I grew up— Seattle’s black population is relatively dismal while more than 2/3 of Baltimore is black. I found all of these qualities appealing and wanted an adventure for college so it seemed like a great fit (and was).
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for Eritrean college students?
My biggest piece of advice for Eritrean college students is to be proactive and resourceful. Always ask questions and stay engaged in your learning so that you can use the skills that you develop to not only help yourself but also those in your community.
What are some of your post-college plans?
My post-college plans are to earn my masters before law school. I will be moving to New York once I return from Japan at the end of August to start a 2 year masters program at Columbia University in health policy and management and global health. After completing this, I plan on attending law school to earn my JD. I hope to pursue a career in diplomacy (potentially for Eritrea 🙂 ), and hopefully start my own practice for immigration and international law services.
If you could, how would you help ERITREA & the ERITREAN people in your community through your gained knowledge & skills in college
I plan to help Eritrea using the skills I’ve gained in higher education through a career in advocacy. I want to serve as an advocate for underprivileged populations both domestically and abroad. My first priority of course being Eritrea. I want to improve the public health system in the country as well as the schools. When I visited last summer to conduct my research project for Hopkins, I was amazed at how little the country had changed since my first time visiting in 2003. There was very little growth. I think there is a huge disconnect between members of the diaspora and those living in the country today. We need to be better advocates for the lack of resources and development occurring in the country. I want to improve the infrastructure of Eritrea overall and think that we should start with improving the education system and increasing the number of jobs/opportunities available.