Faycal Rwigema

In Rwanda, where I am from, not many kids were able to attend decent schools or had a family to support them, but I did. I was fortunate. My dream was to become an engineer at the age of 24, serve in the military, get married at 30, and retire at 55 to own a restaurant and work with orphanages. I had it all planned out, but things did not go as planned. I had to move from Rwanda to the U.S. at the age of 21. That smart and clever kid with the brilliant future was now far from home on another continent.

In my new home of Portland, Maine, I worked as a receptionist at Refugee Services for the City. I wasn’t paid in money as I didn’t have a work permit, but the government covered my expenses. After a year, I got my permit and was legally allowed to work. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any valid work experience and I needed money so I could one day go back to college. I knew a couple of refugees who made good money working in the North Dakota oil fields. It felt like my only option, so I started saving for a ticket. Around this time, my roommate told me about Year Up. I applied, was accepted, and forgot about North Dakota altogether.

Year Up is staffed with professionals. They offer high expectations, but these expectations come with high support. They love their jobs and they’re really good at them. As a student, I had countless opportunities to grow my network and my career. However, you only get what you put in. I went in with an open mind, tried to be as coachable as I could, and gave it my best. On graduation day, I was so proud and grateful for the experience.

When I first came to the U.S., it intimidated me—the cultural and communications barriers made it really hard for me to fit in. Year Up helped me overcome this by teaching me to embrace diversity. I now have friends and colleagues from all walks of life.

As a Year Up student, I also learned invaluable IT and professional skills that have empowered me to achieve real world success. When I finished my internship at the law firm Wilmer Hale, I was offered a full time job in IS-Workplace Support. The goals I set for myself back in Rwanda are back on track and actually achievable.