An Undergraduate's International Odyssey
Born in Liberia, raised in US, she found her identity at Rutgers
Olive Henries was seven when her family left Liberia for the United States.
“My parents came in search of a better life,” said Henries, a School of Arts and Sciences student in the Class of 2014. “The Liberian economy had been destroyed by the civil war.”
But as much as the move expanded her economic and educational opportunities, the arrival in a new country left Henries feeling cut off from her roots.
Growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, she struggled to reconcile her Liberian background with her life in America.
“I was fully assimilated into American culture, yet I felt my identity was incomplete,” she said. “I needed to pull the different strands together and discover who I was.”
It was at Rutgers where she began making that discovery.
Motivated by her own bifurcated background, Henries became a socially and globally conscious student, gaining experience in international settings and as a humanitarian activist.
It all began in her sophomore year when she signed up for a Study Abroad trip to Barbados, where she attended courses for a semester at the University of the West Indies and immersed herself in the local culture.
“I wanted to get out of my American bubble,” she said. “When I came back, I saw myself as a different person.”
The journey also gave her insight into Liberia.
“A lot of Barbados culture is similar to Liberia because the freed slaves came to Liberia,” she said. “That was a very cool connection.”
It was in her junior year that Henries forged a direct link to her native country. Through the Douglass Residential College, she became involved with the More than Me Foundation, a Liberia-based organization that supports girls at risk of sexual exploitation in one of the world’s poorest slums.
As coordinator for the Rutgers chapter, Henries boosted the foundation’s visibility on campus, holding fundraising events, designing bracelets, and networking with other student groups.
She relished the experience of working for a non-profit humanitarian organization, and saw a direct connection to her major, Human Resources Management.
“I am a person who likes to bring groups together and work toward a goal,” she said. “The organizational skills I’m learning have direct applications.”
As she prepares to finish her undergraduate career, which also includes a minor in women's and gender studies, she said her values and goals have become increasingly clear.
“I feel it’s a duty of mine to live a meaningful life and to help others any way I can,” she said. “It’s good to know who you are and I feel like I’ve found that out at the School of Arts and Sciences.”