Weyni Berhe was born in a war zone in Ethiopia. Her parents were guerrilla fighters resisting the communist Derg Regime and the Territorial Army that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987. They went on to serve as General and Colonel in the current Ethiopian government.
As an undergraduate at the College of Wooster in Ohio she served as a Resident Assistant for an international dorm, facilitating programs for more than 400 students. She also worked at the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the UN.
She chose to live at International House to continue exploring and developing her leadership skills – and herself. “I see the concept of I-House as a platform to question who you are and how you fit within the global community,” she explains.
Her participation in the Women’s International Leadership program at I-House is part of that exploration. In addition to the fellowship providing the financial means for her to stay at I-House, the program has helped broadened her views on leadership. She admits that she was skeptical of the need for a specific program for women leaders when first applying, but now describes the program as one of the highlights of her I-House experience.
“I’m meeting women with a variety of leadership roles and styles, and different stands on what it means to be a leader and a feminist,” she says. “We debate, we criticize, we share, and we learn so much from each other. It’s also learning how to engage with women and men, which I really like. It’s amazing to work with people who are equally invested in your professional development.”
She also sees the opportunity to live at I-House as a great privilege that adds enormous value to her academic experience. “Having the financial aid to live at I-House definitely helps take the stress off of being away from home,” she said. “But I’m also part of a network of future leaders. We’re all here now, but in two or three years, we’ll be all over the world but connected and that’s so valuable.”
The connections have already proved beneficial for Weyni. At a recent networking event at Columbia, as many students were trying to gain the attention of some of the more influential alumni, she was able to make a valuable connection through the shared experience of I-House. “We exchanged information and they have helped me secure an internship.”
Weyni also values the safe space provided by I-House, especially during and after the 2016 US Presidential Election. “This was the first time I felt so deeply conscious of myself as a black woman,” she noted. “I’ve never been so conscious of race and gender before. I-House provided lots of support and unity through the community and it was helpful hearing from and knowing that other people were facing challenges too. It would definitely have been harder to go through this period living alone.”