Blanche Butera
Meet Blanche Butera

From one home to another: Butera ready for career in Rwanda

May 3, 2019 | by Courtney Van Hoosen

Blanche Butera was born and raised in Kigali, Rwanda. She did all her education there, until an opportunity arose to come to Nebraska on the CASNR Undergraduate Scholarship Program (CUSP).

Butera arrived in Nebraska as one of seven Rwandan students in the graduating inaugural cohort of the CUSP program. It was everyone's first time to the U.S., and no one knew what to expect. But Butera says her arrival at the airport made her feel at home since day one.

"The first thing I remember [about UNL] is when I came down with my cohort to Lincoln, Nebraska, the Dean came to the airport to pick us up!" Butera said. "And there were other students from NSE, the International Welcome Team. They had a desk there, asking us if we had any further questions... I wasn't really expecting to be so welcomed on the first day."

As the cohort continued to explore their new home, Butera says her first year was "so easy" because everyone at Nebraska was so welcoming. Living in the dorms during her freshman year, she made friends with other students on her floor, and felt constantly welcomed by domestic students' parents who would visit on the weekend and ask how she was. Even after some of them have graduated, Butera still keeps close relationships with the students and their families, some of whom even welcomed her into their home as a host family for the weekend. In fact, one of her favorite American holidays to experience has been Thanksgiving with the friends she's made, trying new dishes and celebrating her friendships. But it wasn't just the students who opened their homes; Butera says she developed close relationships with several faculty members who also invited Butera and her cohort to their homes.

"I wasn't expecting to be so embraced and welcomed by the community. You expect that thing from your home, but you don't expect it from another place where people can just be curious about you and where you come from and pictures from home," said Butera. "They're not scared to ask, they welcomed me to ask more... just welcoming you and embracing you and the whole you are. I mean that's the definition of home, right?"

Whether inside or outside the classroom and campus, Butera says the people at Nebraska are her favorite thing from her college experience. In fact, one of her favorite memories is a group project from a soils and water class she took. Group work was a large component of the course, and Butera was matched in a small group with an American and South Korean student. According to Butera, the most interesting part about the class was her group mates—the diversity of three countries represented, the difference in perspectives that she learned from her peers, and the close friendships she developed with her group.

What’s the best thing about the University of Nebraska-Lincoln? I think it narrows down to people. Just the relationships I’ve made with faulty, students, staff, the community here, churches… just the whole place.

Blanche Butera
Rwanda

Reflecting on her experience at UNL, Butera says she has changed and grown into a person who is no longer scared to ask questions. After living with so many different people and experiencing different perspectives, Butera now feels comfortable with not knowing all of the answers, but to continue learning from the people around her.

"I'm [graduating] from UNL knowing that we do things as a team and we're better off the many we are, the many diverse we are," said Butera. "That I can learn something from you and then I'll bring my experiences and we can make a project that is beautiful, that our differences make us better."

As a student, Butera says she felt the most supported by the university after all of the opportunities she's been able to have, from trips to local attractions to working with New Student Enrollment and beyond. One of her best accomplishments has been learning from her team and experience as a research assistant in the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program. Her project focused around designing a baseline measure for soil biodiversity at the volcano national park in Rwanda. Butera is particularly proud that with her team, she earned almost $10,000 in grant money to continue the study and take samples from the park. In addition to the two papers she wrote that will get published, Butera says the entire process of her research has made a big impact on the person she's become.

"Now that I think about it, I just don't think that I could have become the person I am right now going to another place," explained Butera. "Everything just combined together for me to be [at UNL] and be this kind of person."

Through the CUSP program, Butera received a full scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for four years, including living expenses and travel costs. CUSP students pursue a Bachelor of Science in Integrated Science that is focused on conservation agriculture, entrepreneurship, leadership and other areas of need identified by the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. In Butera's case, she graduates in May 2019 with her Bachelor's and minors in conservation agriculture, entrepreneurship and leadership, and water science.

This summer, Butera will go back to Rwanda where she hopes to work in the environmental field or government policy, encouraging social corporate responsibility and better environmental steward practices. Though she is excited to return to her birthplace, Butera no longer feels like she just has one home in the world. After all, as she said, "There is no place like Nebraska."

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