Augusta Tech student looking to make medical career

He can handle a couple of African languages, is preparing for a career in medicine and Leul Tsegaye, a native of Ethiopia, is also known to some for speaking the language of hospitality.

Tsegaye, 19, is a part-time employee at North Augusta's Chick-fil-A, and also a student at Augusta Technical College. Long-term plans include a return to his native country where he hopes to run a foster home some day.

"My mom moved here for our education. She came here around 2000 and we came here around 2004," he said, referring to himself and his five sisters.

"Ever since then, we've been enjoying life. You always feel homesick. My sisters actually went back home last year, and I haven't actually gone back home. I'll be going home (for a vacation) once I graduate from Augusta Tech."

Tsegaye's earliest years were spent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. He grew up speaking English and is also fluent in Amharic, and he can handle Tigrinya (the language from his father's side of the family), as well, in terms of understanding it.

"Back home, there are some government problems ... You can't speak against the government," Tsegaye said, noting that speech is not as free as in the U.S., but not as stifled as in Pakistan and North Korea, for example.

He and his mom now live in south Augusta, in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, and Tsegaye started with Chick-fil-A in October.

"I was trying to make ends meet with school and stuff like that, so I wouldn't be a burden on my mom," he recalled. "One of the things I did like about Chick-fil-A is the education opportunities, like scholarships, as well as they hold education above all - even work. They want you to go to school, so they work around your education. They want you to progress."

He didn't make the cut on his first attempt, but got another phone call about a month later, asking if he was still interested. The door opened, and he went through.

He works the counter, serving meals and performing chores as needed.

"He's a kind-hearted fellow, and he really cares about the customers here, especially," said fellow Chick-fil-A employee T.J. Parkman.

Parkman also described Tsegaye as "really smart," as shown by his ability with languages and his success in school.

"Once I graduate from Augusta Tech, then I'll be in the program as a registered respiratory therapist," he said. One year of experience will follow ("wherever I do get a job," most likely in a hospital). Then he plans to move to Virginia, to study either anesthesiology or perfusion (circulating blood).

Tsegaye's personal goals for his native country reach well beyond medicine, he said. "I actually want to open up, like, a foster home, and help out the people back home, because there's a lot of kids who don't have adequate learning, because education back there ... you don't really find a lot of free education."

Once in the U.S., Tsegaye wound up attending Morgan Road Middle School and Butler High School, both in Augusta.

Tsegaye's family background, he said, was prosperous enough for him to be able to attend school. "I have family that teach, and so I'd like to support them."

As an anesthesiologist, he hopes to be able to be helpful in supporting others. "Independently, I would like to help people ... with no profit for me, but the profit is happiness, because those kids will actually grow up to be somebody."

His mom, Agegnenhu Desta, also works in North Augusta (a few blocks from Chick-fil-A), serving as a respiratory therapist at UniHealth Post Acute Care.

These days, the man of the house says interaction with people is one of the highlights at work. "You always have ups and downs with the customers, but there are people who come in and are really jolly or make jokes - stuff like that. It keeps your day going, and doesn't bore you."

"It's fun. The workers ... usually interact with you. It's not just work. You still have a friendship. It's almost like a little family, and that's good."