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Student Spotlight: Bertin Mboko


Bertin Mboko

At RIT and in the College of Liberal Arts, there are students with a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. For Bertin Mboko, his journey has been unique and challenging.

It also allowed him a distinctive perspective and an innate drive to be successful. His life experiences, extracurricular activities and academic success all contributed to Bertin's selection as the COLA delegate for commencement.

Born in Congo, Mboko's life took a tragic turn when civil war engulfed the country. A student in college at the time, Mboko was soon forced to flee his native country for the coastal nation of Gabon.

During his eight years as a refugee, Mboko served in various community leadership roles to ensure that aid and other benefits were made available to others in his camp. This included working with peoples of different nationalities, cultural identities and experiences. On top of bridging these differences in worldview, Bertin had to help others overcome their own lack of education.

"Most of [the refugees] were people that didn't go to school so I had to debrief people with a lot of [different] backgrounds: people who never went to school, who went but not enough, who were in the military," said Mboko. "People who lost their parents, little children that ran away from war."

Different countries providing aid to the refugees began accepting them into their country but most were English-speaking countries, a language Mboko did not know.

"When you grow up somewhere that French is spoken, you are generally dreaming of going to France or to live in Canada or Belgium," said Mboko. "When I resettled here in September 2007, I didn't know the language."

The United States accepted Mboko as they were generally allowing student and single parent families into the country. Other ally nations such as New Zealand took former military personnel and their families.

Like so many things in his life, Bertin was proactive about overcoming the barrier of language. Following his arrival in the United States, Mboko began taking classes in English in February of 2008. Seven months later he took a placement exam for college and was enrolled at Monroe Community College. He finished his Associate's degree in Liberal Arts in 2010 before coming to RIT.

Mboko had a plan for his International Studies degree from the beginning. It's something near to the heart of someone living and attending school thousands of miles from his birthplace.

"When you are a refugee, you only think of where you come from. The United States gave me hope to start a new life," said Mboko. "That's why I have to work for the State department or the United Nations. I have to do my best to defend an American vision of the world."

For someone who is multilingual and has dealt with various international governments and the United Nations during his time in Gabon, Mboko arrived with an understanding of the difficulties and nuances of international relations.

"In math, one plus one is two," said Mboko. "In international studies, it's not that easy because you have to be able to under the language and know that [your message] is clear."

While he's borne witness to countless difficulties in his lifetime, Mboko is glad to have found a sense of comfort and community while at RIT.

"Everyone here takes care of everyone," said Mboko. "I used to sometimes ask questions of people I didn't know and they were always happy to help me."

As his career at RIT comes to a close in May, Mboko is glad to return the favor with some advice:

"Don't forget where you came from but work with tenacity to reach your dream, no matter how hard."