New citizens find opportunity in U.S. and at GCU
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
In Grand Canyon University Arena, where the Havocs tend to fire it up and the music tends to blare and the lights tend to flash, Kimanuka Nkumbuyinka works diligently without all the dazzle and fanfare. It is beyond those bright lights where he has found opportunity, friendship and, most importantly, a village that has embraced him.
It wasn’t always so for Nkumbuyinka, who works as an events crew member in Arena Operations and is preparing to take his Oath of Allegiance on Tuesday to become a U.S. citizen — perfectly timed as it would be, since it also will be both Citizenship Day and Constitution Day.
Along with Arena accountant Barbara Cseh (prounounced Ché), Nkumbuyinka (better known to his co-workers as “Bosco”) is one of two Events Services Department employees being naturalized as U.S. citizens. Cseh took her oath over the summer.
Almost two decades ago, Bosco and his family escaped the violence of his home country. The Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered through two back-to-back wars, the second of which resulted in 5.4 million deaths, many of them from starvation and disease, as well as the displacement of 2 million people from their homes.
The family found respite in a refugee camp in Rwanda, where they remained for 10 years after leaving the Congo.
“Life was very hard. There was no school, no food, no nothing,” said Bosco.
When he arrived in the United States – he remembers the exact day, Dec. 15, 2010 – the only English he knew was “Good morning” and “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10,” he said with a smile.
So it was serendipity that he met Leigh Critchley, Executive Director of Academic Alliances and Operational Support, who oversees the K12 Educational Development Department’s Canyon Educational Participant program and their alliance agreements.
“She’s my friend,” Bosco, 45, said of Critchley. “Leigh helped us with a teacher for English or if we went to the store for shopping.”
Critchley volunteered at the time for the International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps refugees and other immigrants thrive in America, and was assigned Bosco’s family.
“They didn’t have a car at the time,” she recalls. Bosco would have to take the bus from where his family was living in Glendale, two hours to his job at a Marriott Hotel in Scottsdale, and two hours back. Since she lived near where Bosco worked, she would drive him there to save him the long bus rides.
“He didn’t speak any English, so I don’t know how we communicated on those drives. But we would see something and point to things and we’d just laugh and laugh,” Critchley said.
It became her mission to get him a job at GCU.
She approached Bob Machen, GCU’s then Senior Vice President for Campus Development – “I sort of nagged at him,” she said – to find Bosco a position at GCU.
“Bob started to try to interview him and realized Bosco was Christian. It came out that Bob saw this as a guy we’re going to help,” said Critchley, who couldn’t tell the story of that life-changing moment without tearing up. She knew what a job at GCU would mean.
Machen asked Dino Trejo, Director of Arena Operations, to find Bosco a job, which he did. Bosco has been with GCU since Aug. 29, 2011, and Trejo has been by his side all that time, helping him make GCU his home: “He’s my brother from another mother,” Trejo said with a laugh.
After Bosco was offered a position at GCU, Critchley said, “When we went out to get in the car, I was bawling and he was crying and he said, ‘Can we just pray?’”
They did, and then Critchley told him: “Your kids are going to go to college.”
That promise of opportunity is coming to fruition, as several of his children attend GCU.
Bosco has since become a homeowner, too. It was in 2013 that he applied to Habitat for Humanity to receive a home and was given the keys to that house in 2015. His family moved from a cramped three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment near campus into the 1,800-square-foot home. Not only did his family help in the build, but so did a number of GCU students.
Now Bosco, one of his daughters and his wife are becoming U.S. citizens.
In the office in the Arena he shares with fellow Arena Operations employees — they’ll tell you he’s never at his desk; he’s always out working — Bosco pulls out the paper he received telling him he was scheduled for a naturalization interview, which he received a year after submitting his initial paperwork.
“Oh my goodness,” he said. “It was very amazing.”
He also proudly takes another piece of paper from a satchel giving him the date for his Oath of Allegiance ceremony.
“Everything is determination,” he said. “If you have determination, you can do whatever you want: I’m going to do it; don’t give up.”
Bosco never did.
Neither did Arena accountant Barbara Cseh, who, like Bosco, arrived in the United States the same year – in 2010 – not knowing more than a few words of English.
She remembers taking a tour of the school in New York that she would attend a few days before the start of her first year of high school.
“They were just talking to me and I just nodded my head,” said Cseh, a native of Hungary who moved here after her mother married an American.
The school administrator who gave her the tour “determined I was able to speak English,” said Cseh, though she didn’t say more than a couple of words to him during the tour. She found herself enrolled in Spanish class, of all things (Cseh spoke her native language, along with German), and would have to translate from Spanish to English and then to Hungarian.
Somehow she made it through.
Not only did she complete four years of Spanish, but she managed to graduate third in her class despite the language barrier. Schools on the East Coast reached out to her because of her achievements.
But she wanted to be somewhere sunnier, and when GCU offered Cseh a scholarship, she took it, hoping to go into medicine.
In 2014, Cseh began applying for student worker jobs at GCU.
“I was applying for all of the jobs – every job,” she said with a laugh.
It was while she was on vacation in Europe that she got a call from the Accounting Department, though she didn’t know anything about accounting.
She has worked for the department since then, two of those years as a student worker. She liked the job so much she decided not to pursue a medical degree and go into accounting instead. She now is working on her master’s degree in accounting and is on track to graduate in December.
The process to become a citizen is a long one, she said. After the initial citizenship paperwork, there’s the long wait to get an interview.
“I got called in this year, around July. I was SO excited,” she said.
At the time she received the call for her interview, she was getting ready to board a plane and immediately changed her plans. She changed her plane ticket because missing the interview means waiting perhaps yet another year for another interview. She wasn’t going to miss that opportunity.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve felt like a citizen. I’m paying taxes. I feel at home,” she said with a smile of her reason to become a citizen. “I think it’s the best country in the world.”
However, it’s a country she’ll be leaving, at least for a while, as she prepares to move to Brazil, where her boyfriend lives. It will be time for her to learn yet another language, this time Portuguese.
“It was a very sentimental moment for me,” Cseh said of her Oath of Allegiance ceremony in August, when new citizens could get up and tell their stories. Her ceremony included 50 people from 30 different countries who were sworn in.
Cseh looks at where she began, just nine years ago and just entering high school, not knowing English, and sees where she is now – a college graduate working on her master’s degree with the world ahead of her.
“Here, if you want something, you have so many more opportunities,” she said.
“I learned one thing,” added Bosco. “It’s to obey God. Take your time for prayer.”
He said to obey the country’s laws, too, and if you do that, the way is clear to realize your goals, hopefully with a village of people like those at GCU embracing you along the way.
Follow GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.