26 years but if you ask him, Mangok Bol M.S. '13 could tell you more than he had ever imagined possible about living, working and receiving an education in a foreign country.
Bol is the administrator for the International and Global Studies program and the Mandel Center for the Humanities, and recently graduated from the International Business School with a master's degree in Finance in May.
He is also a "Lost Boy" of Sudan, one of over 20,000 young boys and girls who fled Sudan in the '80s and '90s to escape the danger and violence of civil war between the Sudan People's Liberation Party and the Sudanese government.
Bol was young boy when he left what was then the Republic of South Sudan, though he isn't sure how old he was when he walked on foot for over two months in 1987 toward refuge in Ethiopia. "I consider myself around 36 [years old], but for me it doesn't matter. I could be 40 and that would be fine with me, " he said in a interview with the Justice.
It is not surprising that Bol ended up with a position at a University: From the time he was very young he was immersed in a community that valued higher education as the most powerful tool to future success. He explained that he was constantly reading books to try and learn more about the world.
"It was more up to me to think it is the right time to study or do my homework," said Bol. "It became a group thing to sit around and read. The sense of getting an education was a big deal among us," he said.
In 2001, Bol came to Massachusetts with a group of 186 refugees. They qualified to enter the United States after a rigorous selection process, one that Bol described as being even more complicated than gaining his American citizenship.
Bol's arrival to the United States did not go unnoticed by the media. Their story reached private interest groups because of the positive media coverage and they therefore received a lot of support.
These organizations began to search for potential universities the newly arrived lost boys could attend. Bol decided to go to the University of New Hampshire in 2003 because of the good financial package he received, for a subject he originally thought he wanted to study but in which he did not receive his degree.
"Ironically, of the five of us accepted to go to the school, four of us ended up going for business and only one did the animal husbandry," said Bol.
Most of Bol's classmates came from the Diinka tribe. The people helping Bol select a college knew of the Diinka people's love for cows and figured the Sudanese men would be interested in the animal husbandry major the university offered.
Bol enjoyed the education and friends he made at the University of New Hampshire, but living in a radically new environment was not without its problems. "UNH was very different, it was not diverse. The population was predominantly white middle class. At first we felt we needed to connect with other Africans on campus," he said.
But there were not only adjustments to American university life; Bol was still getting acclimated to an entirely different environment in terms of geographic location. "The number-one shocking thing was seeing the snow start to fall," said Bol.
In addition to the contrast between New England winter and the hot climate of South Sudan, Bol found casual conversations between men and women to be "unusual." He came from a community where there was a "big divide between male and female," he said.
After Bol graduated with a bachelor's degree in business and administration in 2006, he was encouraged to apply for the administrator of the International And Global Studies program by Prof. Mark Auslander (ANTH), an Anthropology professor at Brandeis who has conducted research on the Sudanese conflict and is board member of the Sudanese Education Fund, a nonprofit that aids Sudanese refugees resettling the Boston area.
"I like working here. Professionally, Brandeis is my niche," said Bol. In 2010, Bol also became an administrator for the Mandel Center for the Humanities.
Although Bol said he has no regrets about coming to the United States and starting his new life of opportunity, he admitted that in leaving South Sudan "something was lost that I can never get back."
Bol plans to return to Sudan in December to see his family and friends for a long-overdue reunion.
Commenting with nervous excitement about what it will be like the day he reconnects with his mother, he said "A good friend of mine went to see her in the village in May. She asked him 'What kind of person is he?' Other people know me better than her. It has been too long."
Although Bol has no official plans, he thinks eventually he will use his master's degree to work to rebuild South Sudan. "I think I can help with financial planning later on but right now, no plan. I am just working at Brandeis and I love it here."