Nelo Nducuia is approximately 9,400 miles from home.
The distance is something the international student from Maputo, Mozambique, has been dreaming about since he was 13. That’s the age he first encountered the English language. He was intrigued by the phonetics but perhaps more intrigued by its opportunity.
“It's a global language,” said Nducuia, a junior business administration major. “If you know English, you can communicate in most countries.”
English wasn’t part of his curriculum in Mozambique, located on the southeast coast of Africa. At 16, he convinced his parents to let him attend school in Tanzania, located 850 miles north of Mozambique, as he continued his dream for opportunity that the English language would provide.
“When I went to Tanzania, they only gave us about seven weeks to learn English,” he recalled. “We had a course that was half of a semester because we didn’t have enough time in school.”
That’s when he took it into his own hands.
“I had a grammar book, and I would watch TV shows. I remember listening to the same songs with lyrics over 20 times a day,” said Nducuia. “I wanted a challenge to get my ears used to it listening while someone was speaking fast.”
Reading English was more cumbersome, he admitted. A mere 10 pages of a book would take him days to read. He would make a list of the new words found within the pages and look them up in a dictionary to ensure he comprehended the content of each page.
Throughout his journey of learning English, Nducuia felt the push and pull of mixed support from his family. He received substantial encouragement from his mother but also felt the uncertainty and fear of his father.
“He didn’t want me to leave the country; he just didn’t think it was a good idea,” Nducuia said.
He pushed on, eventually utilizing his basketball skills to find opportunities in the United States. That eventually led him to a full scholarship to play basketball at Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte, Neb.
“I also had dreams of being able to impact the community,” said Nducuia. “There are so many places where you don’t have the opportunity to do both at the same time, and I thought that if I went to the U.S., it would be a better place.”
As Nducuia’s community college career neared its end, he explored four-year colleges where he could complete his bachelor’s degree.
Enter Nebraska Wesleyan University.
In 2017, NWU and Mid-Plains Community College agreed to a new partnership that would provide more pathways for degree completion. That partnership includes additional financial assistance to members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, an academic honorary for community college students.
“PTK students fit in well here,” said Bill Motzer, vice president for enrollment management. “They are motivated, accomplished scholars, so they assimilate quickly into the academic culture of Nebraska Wesleyan.”
Nducuia was initially intrigued by the PTK Scholarship.
“Without it, I would never be able to be part of Nebraska Wesleyan,” he said.“I feel like NWU is the best fit for me.”
He learned quickly that he appreciates his professors’ personal attention.
“It’s always better to have that face-to-face conversation,” said Nducuia. “You can talk to the professor without having to make appointments. The professors know their students, the unique challenges they face, and often show empathy toward students under tough circumstances.”
Nducuia also considered playing for the men’s basketball team, but ultimately decided to focus on his academics.
“I have a young brother, and he’s 10,” he said. “I’m always scared that something can happen [back at home]. I just want to be ready to take care of him if I have to, so for now, I want to get more skills to help me grow as a professional rather than sports.”
Now he dreams of becoming an investor in the stock market, starting a business and teaching business basics to low-income families.
“People make tragic decisions with the money they make just because they don’t have access to the education they need to make those better decisions,” said Nducuia. “It’s better to teach someone how to do it themselves than to just do it for them.”
His grit is admirable, said Motzer.
“He is courageous and passionate,” said Motzer. “He demonstrates resilience to hardships and perseveres through each challenge confronted in his life. The strength of his character is immense.
“We are fortunate to have Nelo as a member of our community,” Motzer continued. “We have much to learn from him, while humbly hoping we can provide him with a degree that serves him well.”
And one day, Nducuia plans to share the outcome of that degree with others back home.
“Through all the hardships, they could have decided to abandon me,” he said. “But they did not.”
—Story by Danielle Anderson, public relations intern
Learn more about the PTK Scholarship.