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Ole Miss, Ethiopia work to establish exchange programs

Petre Thomas


In the upcoming academic year students at the University of Mississippi may find themselves with an opportunity to travel to a country that previously was not available. 

Three representatives from Addis Ababa University from Ethiopia are on campus this week talking to deans of the different departments on campus, while also exploring different areas of North Mississippi and Memphis. 

Masresha Fetene, the vice president for research and dean of graduate studies at Addis Ababa University, said that they have been working with officials from Ole Miss for quite some time.

“We were looking for opportunities to develop a vibrant program in journalism,” Fetene said. “We wanted to enlarge this collaboration with the University of Mississippi and here we are. We have been visiting different departments and faculty members.”

Zenebe Beyene, former assistand dean of the Graduate School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University, points to Dean Norton as a big key in starting the relationship between the journalism schools at the University of Nebraska and Addis Ababa University. Beyene hopes that the relationship between Ole Miss and Addis Ababa is expanded beyond just the journalism school. 

“What we are trying to do here is establish a partnership,” Beyene said.

Fetene said that he hopes that students come here and get an advanced education. 

“The University of Mississippi is a very established university,” Fetene said. “It has world renowned professors and has established tradition.”

Beyene was quick to stress that this partnership is going to be a two way relationship. 

“The vision is beyond the academic dimension,” Beyene said. “Promoting cultural understanding between students and faculty here at the University of Mississippi and the faculty and students from Addis Ababa University.”

Fetene said that Addis Ababa has plenty of schools that students from Ole Miss can learn from. While he named several different departments including their institute of independent studies, history, engineering and medical school, there was one department that stood out. 

“Anthropology is a field that is very well developed,” Fetene said. “Not just because of Lucy (oldest human remains discovered) but because of the field of cultural anthropology is very well developed, and that can be of tremendous interest to students.”

Established in 1950 the university was originally named University College of Addis Ababa before having its name changed to Haile Selassie I University in 1962 for former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. It was given its current name in 1975. Originally the university only had 33 students and offered one degree, biology. Now they have more than 45,000 students, more than 200 graduate programs, 128 masters programs and 60 PhD programs. The university goes by the claim as the largest university in Africa, with seven campus locations, six of which are within Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa already has partnerships with several universities in the U.S., including the University of Connecticut, University of Nebraska, the University of California — Los Angeles and the University of Montana. 

Fetene said that every year Addis Ababa University has several groups of students that come over and they usually take two routes when they get there. One of which is called the historical route where the students go through the northern part of the country getting to know the historical and cultural landscape of Ethiopia. The other is known as the natural route, where students learn about the rich ecological landscapes that the country has to offer.

“Ethiopia is a very diverse country in terms of topography and ecology,” Fetene said. 

Netsanet Yilma, communication officer at the university of Addis Ababa, said that he hopes that people come and experience the diversity of Ethiopia. 

“The traditions we have, the values, part of this partnership would be creating a place for you to come and see and diversify your studies,” Yilma said. “There is a different cultural setting if you come and see how people live, how we practice media and also other institutions.”

Yilma stressed that experience is the key to understanding anything. He emphasized this point by talking about his experience at Taylor Grocery during his time in Oxford. 

“I was so surprised to learn that you can not sell alcohol on Sundays,” Yilma said. “For a moment I doubted that we were in America, but that is what experience is for.” 

Will Norton, Dean of the Meek school of journalism and new media, spent time teaching at Addis Ababa University when he was with the University of Nebraska. 

“When you walk around the streets of Addis Ababa nobody pays attention to that you are a white person,” Norton said. “What they pay attention to is if you speak English. They want to come up to you and practice their English. Everybody wants to know how to speak English better and how to write English better because they love Americans.”

Norton said that he is excited for our students and faculty to go over to Ethiopia to teach and learn, but at the same time he is looking forward to hosting students and faculty of Addis Ababa. 

“We hope to have some of their students and faculty come over here to a university that a century ago wasn’t too diverse,” Norton said. “There are a lot of things that people don’t know about Ethiopia, but by having their faculty here we’ll find out about the rich history of East Africa.”

Fetene said that he was taken back when he learned about the racial tensions at the university. 

“I first did not believe that in the early 1960s black people were not allowed to come to this university. It was a big surprise,” Fetene said. “It is incredible to see where America has come in such a short time. In about 40 years you have come so far. It’s amazing what the changes have been in one generation.”

Beyene said that the evolution of the both Ethiopia and America is filled with good and bad, but what is most interesting is whether or not the two are willing to take the bad history and turn it into a good future.

“For me the United States is a living example for that,” Beyene said. “It is not because the first black person has become president in this country in Barack Obama; it is beyond that. Even before he assumed office many of the things here in the United States; the evolution, the change, the transformation, can be a model for the rest of the world and we can learn from this.”

Beyene said that Ethiopians value freedom and now what it costs to remain free. 

“Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has never been colonized,” Beyene said. “We know that freedom is not cheap. Our forefathers fought and paid the ultimate price to preserve our freedom. For us visiting this place means a lot.”

Fetene said that hopes that the exchange programs will begin within the next academic year, which normally begins in late September and ends in early June. Norton agreed believing that the next May intersession would be the best time to start the program.