Zebiba Michael wholeheartedly embraces her unique culture and all the benefits it has to offer


Zebiba pictured right.

The comfort of a close-knit community standing behind you is a reassuring luxury many often yearn for. Junior Zebiba Michael, however, has never had to dream of this; it has always been a reality for her.

Zebiba is from Eritrea, a small country in northeastern Africa. Her heritage and culture have always been an unending source of joy. More specifically, it has provided her with a loving community, united by their ethnicity and religion.

“[Being a part of the community] has affected the way I look at the world,” Zebiba said. “I learn so much from each individual. Some of us are actually related to each other, and some of us just feel like we’re actually family.”

Indeed, Zebiba feels deeply thankful for the people she’s found in this community, especially the guidance they provide.

“Being first generation herea�� sometimes you don’t know certain things,” Zebiba said, “[but] we have so many role models for us that teach us about going to college, or just supporting our families and stuff.”

This community developed within Zebiba’s church, Medhanie Alem Orthodox Church. For Zebiba, this church holds a prominent place in her life. She describes it as her “biggest involvement,” as she participates in the choir, teaching classes, and others.

And in recent years, Zebiba was blessed with a secondary group– a sort of auxiliary branch of the church. This group revolves more around the cultural aspect, rather than religion. As a result, many joyous celebrations are celebrated on numerous holidays. For example, a party is thrown to celebrate Independence Day.

“We have Independence Day parties [for] when [Eritrea] first won the war against Ethiopia,” Zebiba said. “So we have parties, we dance for people, and do a skit in our language.”

Zebiba particularly enjoys the dancing.

“I love [the dancing],” Zebiba said. “We wear our cultural clothes, we get our hair done, and it’s just so amazing to see all of our parents so happy and proud of us. Even though we weren’t born there, they’re just so proud of us for keeping up our culture and remembering it because most people think, “Oh they were born in America so they only do American stuff.a��”

Zebiba certainly has a deep attachment to her culture– a connection that was only strengthened when she finally had the opportunity to take a two-month trip to Eritrea in middle school.

“[Visiting Eritrea] was amazing,” Zebiba said. “Before, I watched the TV and stuff [from Eritrea], and so it was different when I got there to see the people. And people think, “Oh, Africa is poora�� or something, but my country is not. It’s just beautiful.”

Zebiba adored many things about her country, including the traditional cuisine.

“The food [was my favorite part],” Zebiba said. “We eat it here, but it’s different when you go there.”

More importantly, Zebiba got to connect with her family that lives there.

“I met my grandpa for the first time,” Zebiba said. “That was really nice.”

Bonding with family meant putting her Tigrinya- the language Zebiba speaks at home- into use, as all of her family speaks it.

“I gained confidence in my language,” Zebiba said. “Because I was taking classes, and I was speaking at home, but to go there and actually speak it is amazing.”

Furthermore, Zebiba experienced something all new in Eritrea. For the first time, her appearance reflected that of those around her.

“[Looking like everyone else] was different– exciting I guess,” Zebiba said. “[Looking different] is not a big issue for me, but sometimes when I sit in a classroom I realize, “Oh my gosh, I’m the only African American in this class.a�� [In Eritrea], everyone looks the same.”

Not often does Zebiba feel ostracized for her unique culture or language, but sometimes, the issue does arise. For example, Zebiba mainly speaks Tigrinya with her family, and she has noticed some snide resentment from people when in public.

“Sometimes I feel different [from others],” Zebiba said. “Like if I go to the store, and I’m speaking my language, people will give me weird or dirty looks like, “Why are you speaking that language?a��”

Nonetheless, Zebiba is undeniably thankful for her culture. She finds that one of the many advantages her differences have provided her with is a deeper perspective on people and life

“[Being from a different culture] doesn’t only want to make me learn more about my culture– it makes me want to learn more about other people too,” Zebiba said. “So I feel like it makes me realize different perspectives about everyone else.”

Even at school, Zebiba’s culture continues to gift her with benefits. Because English is not her first language, Zebiba has been enrolled in a support class since elementary school. Known as ELL, this class is for any student that may struggle with English. For Zebiba, the class simply serves as a little assistance on material or homework; others are taught English completely.

“A lot of people don’t know about [ELL],” Zebiba said. “So I have the advantage of meeting all those kids in there. Most of them are exchange students, and so I have a greater opportunity to talk to them and become friends with them. But some people don’t have a chance to even talk to them.”

Zebiba is certainly grateful to the class, as she has the opportunity to connect with students that many may never even meet.

“[Being in ELL] has been amazing,” Zebiba said. “[The people in there] are probably some of my closest friends in this school.”

No doubt, Zebiba thoroughly appreciates her unique culture and the many blessings it has granted her.

“[My culture] has definitely made me the person I am today– like learning [about it], becoming friends with different people, and learning different perspectives of everyone,” Zebiba said.