Whenever Cedric Twizere sets a goal for himself, he visualizes himself achieving it.
“So far, since I’ve been in the U.S., I’ve achieved most of the things I’ve tried to achieve,” he
said. “The first thing was I wanted to come to UT. Then, get my bachelor’s degree – to graduate
– and then go to a master’s program, and I was able to do that at UT.”
The former Bridge Refugee Services client earned his master of accountancy from the University of Tennessee in May and started working in October as a tax associate for a Nashville audit and tax consulting firm while he takes the series of exams needed to become a Certified Public Accountant.
“By the end of next year, I will have passed my exams,” he said. “That’s my goal. After I pass the exams, there’s a work requirement I need to do for one to two years. So, two years from now, I will have my CPA.”
Cedric, 26, said he sets high, but achievable goals for himself. “I usually just keep going until I achieve the goal,” he said. “I think what has helped me be successful is just being focused – visualizing your goals and having an image of what you’re trying to accomplish and where you’re trying to go.”
But Cedric didn’t always have such high aspirations when he was a young refugee living with his
mother and sister in Zambia, Africa. Born in a refugee camp in Goma, Congo, after his parents
fled violence and war in their native Rwanda, he spent most of his youth without a place to call
home. He has vague memories of the time he lived in Kenya, but remembers reuniting with his
older sister after his father died and his mother moved them to Zambia.
“I knew that I had a sister but I had never seen her because we grew up in different places,” he
said. To keep her safe, his parents had sent her to live with their grandmother. “The first time I saw her again was when I was 8,” he said. “I remember more of my childhood from Zambia because I was a little bit older.”
His mother opened a grocery store there while he attended school and began learning English, an
official language spoken in the former British colony that neighbors Congo, but is more than
1,300 miles from his Rwandan motherland.
“When I was still in Zambia, I took a principles of bookkeeping class,” he said. “I found it
interesting and it’s how I developed my interest in accounting.”
But as a teenage refugee, Cedric had little hope of seeking higher education or finding a job. “Everywhere I was, I was a foreigner,” he explained. “I didn’t have a lot of expectations of going to school after I graduated from high school. I wanted to pursue higher education; but when I was in Africa, I didn’t expect typical goals.”
Recognizing the lack of opportunities, his mother began the lengthy process to resettle as
refugees in the United States.
“I lost hope,” he said of the years they waited for approval. “It just dragged on and on and on.”
The wait ended in 2013, when they learned they were being resettled in Knoxville.
“We had no idea where Knoxville was,” he said. “But I was excited at the time because I knew if
I’m going to the U.S., I think I can go to college. I can do something for myself. There’s a future
for me if I go to the U.S. I heard a lot of things about how people came here and went to school
and became successful.”
They landed in New York on the last day of February, staying there overnight because of a
missed connecting flight to Knoxville. “I don’t think I will ever forget that day,” he said. “It was intense. I’ve never felt that cold in my life.”
When they arrived the next day in Knoxville, he was also struck by the lack of leaves on trees
and how few people there were outdoors.
“I had never seen winter,” he said. “I came from Lusaka, Zambia, the capital. It’s a very big city
compared to Knoxville so you see people outside all the time. Here, I just saw cars driving
Bridge connected the family with a Community Assistance Team (CAT) affiliated with Cedar
Springs Presbyterian Church, who welcomed them to their new community and helped them
with housing, clothing and transportation.
“Bridge helped us in a lot of ways,” Cedric said. “We didn’t know anything at all.”
They helped his mom find a job at a nursing home, where she still works today. They also helped
him and his sister – now a nurse – with their goals of going to college.
Cedric, 17 at the time of his arrival, opted to take the General Educational Development (GED)
exam, rather than enroll in a local high school with less than three months left of his senior year.
While he already knew English, he also took English as a Second Language (ESL) classes so he
could enroll in an associate’s degree program at Pellissippi State Community College.
“That was a very big challenge,” he said of learning English.
He explained that his English education in Africa consisted of learning grammar rules from
textbooks and hearing it spoken in a classroom setting.
“I was not very comfortable speaking the language,” he said. “I could not explain things and hold
long conversations in English. When I started going to school, I was not very comfortable
speaking in class because I had a thick accent and people had trouble understanding what I was
But like every goal he set for himself, Cedric gained confidence the more he spent time with
classmates and speaking the language with them.
“I improved over time,” he said. “It’s still a work in progress. It’s a continuous process.”
After earning his associate’s degree, he transferred to UT, where he earned a bachelor’s degree
in accounting and then his graduate degree. While in college, he also worked as a tax intern for a
local CPA firm and began helping other refugees by serving as an interpreter for the Foreign
Before moving to Nashville, Cedric also volunteered to help the Cedar Springs CAT welcome
another newly arrived refugee family.
“They’re also from Rwanda and I helped with translating,” he said. “I still stay in touch with the
families that resettled us.”
In 2019, Cedric also achieved another goal he set for himself – becoming a U.S. citizen.
“When I was getting naturalized, there was one other person who came to the U.S. at the same
time we had and I had not seen him for years and I saw him there and it was amazing,” he said.
“All my life, I just felt like I didn’t really have a place to call home. Now, I have a place I can
call home, which is nice.”