Roots affect student lives

Kathryn Nelson

For some students, staying connected to their heritage while in college and establishing their own identity can be a difficult task.

Three students with diverse African backgrounds shared their stories on how they have forged their paths while remembering the countries that raised them.


Gifty Adjoa Akofio-Sowah said she feels it’s important to know and engage with her African roots. With a father from Ghana and mother from Boston, Akofio-Sowah lived in her father’s country for two years. There she learned the local culture and created relationships with her family.

As a young girl in Ghana, Akofio-Sowah learned important lessons, such as respect, which is highly valued in the country, she said.

“Living there as a child is so refreshing,” she said.

Now an urban development sophomore, Akofio-Sowah is hopeful about the future of Ghana, she said.

“We still have a long way to go,” Akofio-Sowah said, “but we’re getting there.”

As first-generation Africans graduate from college, many have the desire to return to their native land and help, she said.

“Africa is not a dead end,” Akofio-Sowah said.

Ghana was the first country in which African slaves were taken for trade and the first African country to establish independence from Britain.


Nadine Abou-Karam’s parents were born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt, the second-largest city in the country.

Although Abou-Karam was born in the United States, her family moved back to Egypt when she was 4-years old.

“They wanted (my brother and I) to get a base for our roots,” she said.

As a Muslim, Abou-Karam said living in Alexandria helped her develop her religious beliefs further. Bells rang throughout the city several times a day as calls to prayer.

Although she had many fond memories of the country, Abou-Karam said sometimes day-to-day tasks, such as filling out government forms, can be hard in Egypt.

“Daily life is a struggle,” she said.

Abou-Karam brought her Egyptian traditions to Minneapolis, using a digital alarm clock as a reminder for prayer and speaking Arabic at home.

“The way I carry myself, (people) know I’m Egyptian,” she said.

Because of her heritage, Abou-Karam said she has been asked some strange questions about Egypt, like if she lived in a pyramid, or if she walked like an Egyptian.

Abou-Karam said she is occasionally treated differently in the United States because of her race, and has been stopped at the airport because members of her family were wearing head coverings.

Now a sophomore, Abou-Karam said she hopes to study pharmacy in the future and return to Egypt.

“I feel like I fit in there,” she said.

Egypt has a primarily Muslim population and holds one of the most famous rivers in the world, the Nile.


The last time Niyi Ayinde visited Nigeria, the home of both of his parents, was for a funeral when he was in the seventh grade.

“I think you lose your heritage if you want to,” said the junior psychology student.

Although he said he doesn’t want to live in Nigeria permanently, many of the nation’s traditions have permeated his life in Minneapolis.

“Being born in America and having African roots is the best of both worlds,” he said.

Images of violence in Nigeria have dominated television for the past few months, but Ayinde said life there was very similar to that in the United States.

“I really didn’t see a big difference,” he said.

Ayinde stressed that the typical portrayal of Africans, as living in huts and hunting animals, is incorrect.

He also said he has hope that his country will someday reunite and rid government corruption.

“It can definitely change,” he said.

Nigeria has a history of corrupt governments and military coups. Recently, the country elected Umaru Yar’Adua amid controversy over fraudulent voting procedures.