<p> Jesse Raines <p> </p>
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Student and Alumni Stories

Jesse Raines


Bachelor of Arts, African Studies ‘19—expected

Swahili language courses may not be a common selection for Penn undergraduates, but Jesse Raines has had ample opportunity to put his language skills to use. When a group of Penn film students planned a summer trip to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, Jesse helped them prepare for what to expect on their travels: with eight years of military service and an extended security detail in West Africa, he brought valuable perspective to the group’s preparatory research. “We did culture classes for a few weeks, and I taught them Swahili,” he recalls. “That program was one of the best experiences I had at Penn. Some of the students have really great energy, and they have so much hope and aspiration.”

Jesse’s interest in African languages and cultures emerged from the time he spent in Ghana and nearby countries. American media, he suggests, tends to be saturated with images of famine and overcrowding which don’t represent the diversity of African experiences. “The people, the environment, the food, everything was so different from what I had envisioned,” he reflects. “Maybe articles about really interesting African entrepreneurs don’t sell as well, but I saw amazing things in terms of government and economic growth. Africa is full of individuals.” African Studies draws from many disciplines, and Jesse has taken courses in subjects from political science and history to niche culture studies of fashion in Africa. He is considering careers in international risk assessment or security that would put his knowledge and military experience to advantage; in the meantime, he values opportunities to represent the complexity of the African continent to American audiences. “I like the idea of bringing my experience to all things. It’s like being a veteran,” Jesse explains. “People have a certain idea of what you should be like, and I’m not like that at all.”

Working with Service to School, Jesse talks to other veterans about life as a student and assists them with essays and the admissions process. He encourages student veterans to be active in their college community, make friends and join clubs. “Engage the regular student population, engage your professors,” he urges. “Veterans benefit the university. That’s why we’re here. Let’s make it count.”

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