For young adults around the globe, higher education plays a pivotal role in establishing identity and fostering intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual growth. It is one of lifes major crossroads, where youth enter adulthood and where critical choices are made that will chart the course of a young persons future — professionally as well as personally. It is a time to explore passions and cement a belief system. It offers an occasion to carve a professional niche, exercise personal freedoms and challenge the status quo.
For Ethiopias young adults, the same holds true. But in a context distinctly Ethiopian, the college experience comes laden with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. These young adults are coming of age in a rapidly changing society. For them, college also places them in a constant tug of war between the traditional and communal agrarian way of life most knew as children and a fast-paced Western lifestyle, with its focus on personal freedom and consumerism. Family pressure to remain close to home contends with economic pressure to grab that travel visa and seek better career opportunities abroad.
From the moment first-year students step foot on campus, new and intense challenges blindside them, particularly for those from Ethiopias isolated rural areas. Competition among students is fierce and comes at them from all directions, whether academic, cultural, economic, political, social or spiritual. Students living on or off campus find themselves on their own and away from their families for the first time. Many never have budgeted expenses nor have they shopped for food, cooked or done laundry. Without family rules, obligations and support, some will succumb to one or more of the pitfalls lurking everywhere — from drug abuse to time or money mismanagement to abusive relationships and harassment.
Recognizing these challenges, Ethiopias Orthodox and Catholic churches have beefed up their chaplaincy programs at universities across the country to help students adjust to, cope with and ultimately flourish in their new environment. They encourage students to make time for personal and spiritual reflection as well as offer them a comfort zone — or belongingness, as Jesuit Father Groum Tesfaye, who heads the Catholic chaplaincy at Addis Ababa University, likes to say.
Chaplaincy programs also help students affirm their identity. Addis Ababa University, like most Ethiopian universities, is a microcosm of the countrys extraordinary religious and ethnic diversity. Its student body includes men and women from many of the countrys more than 80 ethnic groups and all of its major religions — Animist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Until college, most Ethiopian students never before experienced the countrys diversity on such a scale. This diversity, combined with Addis Ababas fast-paced urban environment, often bewilders new students.
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