A long way from home

Maria Sobrini and Julius Mbewe are “student ambassadors” at Peninsula College. That means they help recruit new students and make sure they feel welcome when they arrive on campus. Both traveled to the peninsula from distant shores: Sobrini is from Spain, Mbewe from Zambia.  Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig

Peninsula College is a perfect fit for some international students

Sequim Gazette

Julius Mbewe is from Zambia but he was attending school in Kenya when he first heard about far-away Port Angeles and Peninsula College.

Ge-Yao Liu, P.C.’s former director of international student programs, was visiting Nairobi’s St. Austin’s Academy when he met Mbewe, who was both a good student and a celebrated basketball player at the private school.

Mbewe said he immediately was attracted to P.C. because “it’s the cheapest one out of all the (American) colleges.” He says the tuition isn’t necessarily less expensive, but the cost of living on the peninsula is a comparative bargain.

He first enrolled at P.C. in fall 2007 and attended classes through June 2009, eventually earning his associate’s degree. This year he has a part-time job with the college serving as one of four “student ambassadors.” In that position he helps recruit new students and also acts as one of the welcoming committee when they arrive.

The ambassadors also often serve as the “face of the college” at public events.

With his big smile and friendly ways, Mbewe is a perfect fit.

To continue his education, Mbewe is considering a number of schools around the U.S. He also is considering earning a Bachelor of Applied Science degree at P.C. Because the degree plan includes work experience, his current job would count toward that degree.

While Mbewe currently is earning a paycheck, like most of the international students he has to rely on his parents to pay for his education. Mbewe’s mother, who works for the United Nations, has excellent benefits. In fact the international organization pays 75 percent of the cost of Mbewe’s schooling.

Make yourself at home

Mbewe knows exactly what he likes best about the U.S. —  “Freedom.”

“Freedom in the sense that people will be honest with you,” he said. “They’ll tell you you’re an idiot. You know where you are with them.”

Freedom in a second sense, too. “You see in the papers cartoons of Barack Obama. You’d never see that (in Kenya),” he said. Mbewe says the freedom found in the U.S. wasn’t altogether a surprise. Like many of his generation, he can’t recall a time when the Internet wasn’t widely available, providing a peek into U.S. culture.

Mbewe has taken good advantage of his opportunity to see America, with his destinations including New York City and Las Vegas.

She came, she saw, she stayed

Maria Sobrini’s story is a little different. She actually showed up in Port Angeles as a high school exchange student from Spain.

Sobrini was a little surprised by what she found. “I thought I was going to Los Angeles,” Sobrini said. “A big city.”

She soon fell in love with Port Angeles. “I really made good friends and enjoyed my school. I decided I wanted to come back.”

“I came from Madrid,” she said. “Another big city. It’s calm, quiet here.”

She said the academic atmosphere in the universities is also different in the U.S. “In Europe because it’s free, they drink beer for two years. At 20 … 21 they start working.”

That’s changing, she noted. New rules now require students to finish in six years, otherwise they have to pay.

Sobrini is more than halfway through her two-year academic program at P.C. She’s studying business and hopes to find work in international business. “I’m dreaming about going to China, taking Mandarin,” she said. She’s already taken courses in Mandarin at P.C. If she adds Mandarin to her current fluency in English and Spanish, “I’ll have all of the big languages,” she said.

Junk food junkie
Sobrini is emphatic about what she likes best about the U.S. “I just love eating junk food and here is the best.” That includes the hamburgers at 8th Street Bridge’s Grill. (“With fries and a shake,” added Mbewe, who also is a fan of American food.)

Sobrini still is surprised by some of the family relations as practiced in the U.S.

“People are too independent,” she said. “Parents kick you out at 18. (In Europe) we live at home till 30, then get married.”

Mbewe agreed. “Here (the children) talk back to their parents,” he said. “I wouldn’t dream to speak to my parents that way.”

On the other hand, Mbewe admires the greater role American women play in public life. “In America, they have a voice,” he said.

Reach Mark Couhig at


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