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TWIN FALLS — Mary Ande learned a new language and a new culture to become a first-generation college student.

Ande’s father, Yemane, was forced to leave her family in their native Eritrea for a refugee camp when she was 3. She saw him for the first time in nearly a decade after they were given the option to move to the United States.

“I was happy to meet my dad,” she said. “I didn’t even remember his face.”

Ande moved to Twin Falls in 2015, but the transition was not always easy.

In addition to adjusting to a new country, she understood little English and had trouble communicating with others.

School was a priority for Ande and her family, and Canyon Ridge High School was a crucial part of her acclimation to Twin Falls.

Going to classes and spending time with friends allowed her to become more confident speaking English, to the point she now rarely needs to ask for help.

“The more you communicate with people, the more you learn,” Ande said.

Teachers were always willing to help, she said. Often she would stay after school in the English Language Learner class with teacher Sara Toledo.

Ande’s work ethic made her eligible to join the Honors Society during her sophomore year and helped her to make considerable progress from being a shy freshman to a confident woman, Toledo said.

“She has the tenacity to accomplish anything she has in mind for herself,” Toledo said. “I’m lucky to have gotten to know her and teach her.”

Toledo said she was also impressed with Ande’s leadership abilities. After a recent drowning of a Congolese man at Dierkes Lake, Ande sought out other students to let them know she was there for them, Toledo said.

That leadership extends outside of school. Ande said she often works with kids at the refugee center at the College of Southern Idaho.

“It’s kind of cool to help new people,” she said.

The combination of diligence and direction allowed her to get into her choice school at Boise State University. She plans to study business and to one day be an accountant.

She said she’s excited for college and to learn how to cook and clean for herself. College was not something she thought would be a possibility when she first came to America, she said.

“I feel like I grew up.”

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