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The Carletonian

Time in Ethiopia gives Jonas Lindholm-Uzzi ’20 perspective on life

<layer Jonas Lindholm-Uzzi (Germantown, N.Y./Red Hook) owns an air of cool authority. Though he stands a towering 6-foot-5, the well-spoken first-year’s intellectual presence is just as noteworthy off the court. After taking a gap year, four months of which were spent in Ethiopia, he now carries with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that would make most first-year students blush.

Hoping to focus on advancing his tennis skills, Lindholm-Uzzi elected to take a gap year before applying to college. An early injury threw a wrench into his plans, but he vowed to find a way to make an impact regardless.

After doing his own research online, Lindholm-Uzzi decided to spend four months in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. This idea was spurred by an obvious connection to the country, as his two adopted sisters were both born in the country. LIndholm-Uzzi chose to volunteer at a local school through the Selamta Family Foundation, which works in Ethiopia to develop families and bright futures for orphaned children, marginalized women, and families at-risk of breaking apart.

“It was incredible working with those kids and spending time with them,” remembers Lindolmh-Uzzi. “I’d go to dinner with them, I’d teach them, and I built really meaningful relationships. It was hard to say goodbye.”

Lindholm-Uzzi’s wealth of worldly exposure does not go unnoticed by the men’s tennis team. “Everybody respects the amazing life experiences Jonas has already collected,” says head coach Stephan Zweifel. “He injects a very thoughtful view of the world to our van ride conversations.”

“And,” Zweifel adds wryly, “he makes himself very useful when we need something pulled off the top shelf in the storage locker.”

For Lindholm-Uzzi, tennis provides another avenue for exposure to new experiences. “Tennis is a very unique way to meet all different types of people,” he says. “I’ve played with people from Costa Rica, I’ve played with people from Spain… you can go anywhere and pick up a racquet and play with somebody. There are a lot of memories you can make on the court.”

What was it like adjusting to the culture in Addis Ababa?

“I think if you focus on how different things are, then you have a harder time integrating yourself. There are some things like that in Ethiopia. They don’t eat with silverware; they eat with a bread called injera. You can only eat with your right hand—but it was great, I was eating with the kids in their homes, and it was just remarkable. These mothers who were part of the organization, these disenfranchised women from villages outside of the capital, who were then put in these houses with kids from different backgrounds—girls from broken homes, boys who were left on the street—they would pile my plate with food. I had to eat every little bit, and at the end of each meal I was completely stuffed. They drink a lot of coffee—coffee is from Ethiopia, so I would drink like five macchiatos a day to be polite, and then I would be wired all day.”

What was the most eye-opening part of the experience?

“My family came at the end of the four months, and we visited my sisters’ birthplaces. These were villages in the mountains, really in the middle of nowhere. But if you go to the capitals, in these African cities, these kids were doing math, biology, at a level higher than I ever did in high school. So, to just lump these people together, as one group, it really does a disservice.

“I think that you can’t teach an experience, so I would recommend that anybody take a trip abroad, or volunteer like that. Being around differentpeople, experiencing different things, helping other people, and understanding these different perspectives is so important going through life.”

How was the adjustment to college life after your gap year?

“What I really enjoy about this school—Pres. Poskanzer talks about how unpretentious people are—and I think there’s actually a lot of truth to that.

People here can joke around, and the amount of levity is great. The academics are intense, but it’s not overly competitive. Everyone is willing to put down work and help each other. I think that’s really important to make a good community.”

Has your experience on the tennis team so far been similar?

“The team has been great. I think everyone should be on a team—whether that be athletics, or robotics, or an acapella group. Being part of a group that has similar interests and are really focused on that, it drives you as a person. I think that’s important in every step of your life. The tennis team is a great group of guys. Everyone’s working their butt off, which is important in a team. We all care, and we all want to help each other.”

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