Zemichael Gebeyehu, ‘24, is living on campus for the first time this year. Gebeyechu no longer has to worry about the uncertainty of internet connection, access to electricity, and time zone differences getting in the way of his coursework. (Courtesy of Zemichael Gebeyehu)

1 in 7,067: Zemichael Gebeyehu adjusts to life at Lehigh after spending his first semester in Ethiopia


Studying remotely in his home country of Ethiopia, Zemichael Gebeyehu, ‘24, spent the fall semester of his first year at Lehigh struggling to gain consistent access to the internet.

After encountering complications during the fall, Gebeyehu successfully made it to Lehigh for the spring semester. He said he is happy to be on campus since he doesn’t have to worry about the uncertainty of internet connection, access to electricity and time zone differences getting in the way of his coursework.

Following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, a famous Ethiopian singer and activist, in summer 2020, the country began experiencing internet issues, which coincided with the start of Gebeyehu’s classes at Lehigh.

“The internet was affected by the assasination of the singer because people started to post hate speech on the internet,” Gebeyehu said. “All of that translated to people dying so the government had to stop the chaos from happening.”

Along with experiencing internet trouble, Gebeyehu also struggled with his electricity.

“It seems that we have a shortage of electricity around the country,” Gebeyehu said. “At some point the electricity would shut down in a specific neighborhood for a few hours, but it was not related to the assasination of the singer.”

Despite the challenges Gebeyehu faced, he said he was determined to stay on top of his coursework and was successful in doing so. 

Gebeyehu said he wasn’t certain electricity and the internet would work during the day so he had to take exams at odd hours. He said 9 p.m. to midnight were the most reliable times for internet usage.

Gebeyehu said he felt it was imperative to come to campus for the spring semester to negate his worries of falling behind due to events out of his control.

“There were tons of things happening in Ethiopia, during the fall semester especially, like terrorist attacks around the capital city and people dying around different regions,” Gebeyehu said. 

Although he was able to come to Lehigh for the spring 2021 semester, his journey to campus brought new challenges. 

He said due to the pandemic, obtaining a visa to come to the U.S. was harder than it may have otherwise been.

“Since the start of the pandemic back in March, the U.S. consulate and embassies around the world started to close appointments,” Gebeyehu said. “For a long period of time, appointments were not available to get a visa in order to come here on campus for the fall semester.” 

With patience and determination, Gebeyehu said he successfully acquired his visa and was ready for all Lehigh had to offer after a long process of booking appointments that were canceled and later rescheduled. 

Wanting to make the most out of his Lehigh experience, Gebeyehu quickly became involved in extracurriculars. Gebeyehu is a member of Lehigh’s Formula SAE team, an engineering club for students who are interested in motorsports, where he is mentored by member, Nolan Sornson, ‘21. 

“Zemichael (Gebeyehu) is very self-directed and curious, and to see that in someone so young and new to Lehigh is really great,” Sornson said.

Gebeyehu said he is grateful for the resources Lehigh provided him leading to his arrival on campus and throughout his adjustment period. He said the Office of International Students and Scholars, the International Center for Academic and Professional English, the Office of Registration and Academic Services, and Library and Technology Services all offered him the help and information he needed to be successful.

Mary Newbegin, a language specialist at the International Center for Academic and Professional English, was Gebeyehu’s English 095 instructor and spoke highly on his self-motivation. 

“He is the kind of person who is going to get every last drop of any experience,” Newbegin said. “He really puts his heart and soul into it. He has this wonderful influence on any group of people. You get a really great sense, even virtually, of who he is.”

Gebeyehu said he made a point of working with professors at Lehigh right away.

“(I) especially (wanted to work with) former NASA astronaut and professor, Terry Hart,” Gebeyehu said. “Thankfully, he is now my advisor. I’ve also joined research groups for the spring semester which is really exciting for my first year of college.”

Gebeyehu said he has settled into his new life at Lehigh nicely and plans to major in mechanical engineering and pursue a minor in aerospace engineering.

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