Hot coals filled the fire pit trench in the concrete floor of the boys dorm patio. Kebabs sizzled on the grate. She looks between her African, Norwegian and American friends, effortlessly switching between languages. Debora Abate is a true testament to the power if bilinguality.

Born in Ethiopia to full-blooded Ethiopian parents, Debora considers herself Norwegian. Her father leapt at a chance to move from Africa to Norway by way of a job change. She is fluent in Norwegian, Amharic Ethiopian, and English. Amharic is an official language of Ethiopia.

Debora Abate is a planner. After forming new friendships at the patio party, Debra unveils how she thinks in the Student Union with friends bustling behind. “I like to have control, and I like to plan ahead,” she asserts, smiling. On the subject of deciding to come to Hillcrest through the partnership with the Danielsen school, she reminisced, “When I was in ninth grade I started to try to find high schools. Then, I met Robel Mazengia.”

Robel is familiar to many at Hillcrest. He attended Hillcrest as a Danielsen student a few years ago. Robel’s glowing words about Hillcrest, both before and after his experience, led Debora to plan for her own trip to the little school in Fergus Falls, Minnesota as part of the Danielsen partnership with Hillcrest.

Debora’s parents are Christian converts, but more specifically, they are Protestants. Ethiopia is primarily a nation of traditional religion, embodied by the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Alongside the Trinity, Ethiopian Orthodox teaching venerates saints, angels, and other spiritual beings. In the past, Protestants were persecuted in Ethiopia, but now conflicts have cooled, leaving two very different modes of Christian worship alongside each other. Debora’s involvement in church is growing at Hillcrest, built on practices she developed in Norway. “I went to church every Sunday. I went to youth group, I was on the worship team.”

With friends chatting at tables behind her, Debora leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand. She started contemplating her faith and how she is growing at Hillcrest. “I think I am learning to be more independent and make my own choices,” she says thoughtfully. “When I was young, when I had to go to church, I had to go to church.” Debora says she is becoming more mature spiritually at Hillcrest, working to be more intentional with her relationship with God.

In some ways, Hillcrest fits perfectly with the picture Robel gave Debora. In others, it’s very different. “The people here are more engaging than in Norway. In Norway, there’s lots of people, but they won’t talk to you if they don’t know you...nobody talks to each other on buses. I’ve made a lot of friends here, more than I thought I would.”


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