Paradis Ikirezi is a senior at Spring Street International School.

Paradis Ikirezi is a senior at Spring Street International School.

Exchange student describes life in Friday Harbor

Submitted by Spring Street International School

Spring Street International School is a day and boarding school with a dorm that houses 20 students. Currently, the school houses students from Rwanda, China, India and other parts of the United States in the dorms. Specifically, SSIS is connected with a sister school in Rwanda and accepts two students at a time at the school. Spring Street supporters help provide a scholarship for them to attend SSIS. Three Rwandan girls have graduated from the school, and currently, Paradis Ikirezi, a senior, and Christa, a junior, attend. Nia Tirumale is the school’s Indian student, and she is a senior this year as well. There are also seven Chinese students. SSIS staff believes that to understand “the other” is to understand oneself and that diversity is critical to a good education.

Ikirezi describes her experience below:

I am here because of the dust I left back home. It covers my feet to this day. In Rwandan culture, girls represent their homes. If a girl is clean, it is presumed her home is also clean. So, ever since I was little, I hated dust. I hated the way it made me choke when cars zipped by. I hated the cracks on my fingers I got from scrubbing my uniforms. I hated that no matter how many times I cleaned my papa’s black bible table, the dust always crept back. When I received an opportunity to attend a school in Friday Harbor, I was exhilarated: I am going to see the grand America, and I was escaping the Rwandan dust.

During my flight, I imagined Friday Harbor: people dancing on clean streets to a Beyoncé song; billboards looming overhead; teenagers skating in the park; and graffiti marking the city. I dreamed of a new Paradis: she wore ripped jeans, drove her own car and went skydiving. Back in Rwanda, my father and my teachers encouraged me to research Friday Harbor. I strongly refused. I wanted America to surprise me. And it did.

We got off the ferry in Friday Harbor. I looked for the street dancers. Instead, I saw a group of old ladies chatting by a coffee shop. I looked for billboards: nothing. As we drove uphill, I waited eagerly to see my imagined world — graffiti, ripped jeans, anything. All I saw were small shops, a bank and a gas station. While I was looking ahead to see if anything was coming up, my school’s admissions officer said, “Welcome to Spring Street.” She gestured to a small white building with nine flags hanging from the porch. Was that all the city of Friday Harbor had to offer? I refused to believe it.

It was not until I went on a hiking trip with my new school that I saw it. The dust. It was at my campsite and on the trails. Then it dawned on me: movies lied. Not all of America has billboards and street dancers, and not all of America is covered with clean roads. Suddenly, I wondered why I didn’t see the beauty in the dust.

I still have not seen any street dancers, but I have become a dancer myself. I have not skydived, but I have abseiled and ziplined. I have not seen graffiti, but I have helped kids at Friday Harbor Elementary School sketch drawings of their families and build their own snowmen. I am not the girl who wears ripped jeans, but I am a girl who no longer fears the dust. I have come to see dust as what connects me to the dust-covered feet of Rwandan women carrying their children on their backs and a dusty basket of tomatoes on their heads. And I see the American dust as part of the path to my future and the truths I learn along the way.