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Former Refugee Finds New Home on Rocky Top

November 9, 2020

For many students, one of the most important aspects of the university experience is the chance to leave home and become part of a new community. For Cedric Twizere, a master of accountancy student at the Haslam College of Business, finding that sense of belonging has been particularly meaningful.

“I knew that I was from Rwanda, but I did know what being Rwandese meant,” said Twizere, who was born in a refugee camp in Goma, Congo, after his family fled from the 1994 Rwandan civil war and genocide. “I did not know what it feels like to call a place home.”

When Twizere was eight years old, his father died, and Twizere, his mother and older sister moved to Kenya. Unable to make a living there, his mother relocated the family to Zambia, where she opened a grocery store. For Twizere and his sister, however, Zambia held very little chance of education or employment. 

With hopes of securing a better future for the whole family, his mother applied for refugee status for herself and her two children. After a three-year screening process, the family received refugee status and learned they would be moving to the United States. Bridge Refugee Services helped Twizere, his mother and sister settle in Knoxville in 2013.

When he arrived, Twizere spoke English but had trouble understanding American speech. He took ESL courses administered by Bridge Refugee Services, and as his language proficiency increased, he enrolled in GED classes. After earning his GED certificate, he enrolled at Pellissippi State Community College. In 2017 he transferred to UT, but the transition wasn’t easy at first.

“I had a difficult time adjusting when I transferred here,” he said. “I always felt that UT was too big for me. Once I connected and felt a part of the university, it did not feel big anymore.”

He got involved in Beta Alpha Psi, the accounting honor society, and Bridges International, a Christian organization for international students. He graduated with a B.S. in business administration in fall 2019.

Twizere is now continuing his business education in Haslam’s MAcc program, where he is particularly interested in learning about taxation. While in school, he is also working as a classroom producer, providing support for instructors during hybrid and online class sessions.

When he graduates, Twizere plans to pass the CPA exam, find a job in public accounting and stay involved with the refugee community in Knoxville or wherever his career takes him. He said he hopes he can inspire other refugees to go to college.

“Cedric has always stood out as a thoughtful, engaging and professional student, both in the classroom and as a member of Beta Alpha Psi,” said Alycia King, lecturer in the department of accounting and information management at Haslam. “His story is a testimony to his drive for excellence and his ability to overcome adversity.”

Outside of his studies and work, Twizere enjoys spending time with friends and family, biking and volunteering to assist other refugees who are new to Knoxville. In May 2019, he achieved his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. He said he will always be grateful for the opportunities he has here. 

“I was a refugee for most of my life,” he said, “but now I have a place I can call home.”

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CONTACT:

Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, sestep3@utk.edu