Jean Christian Niyonkuru is an auto tech student at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center and also takes classes at Cascade High School. Niyonkuru came to the Puget Sound as a Rwandan refugee and orphan in fifth grade. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jean Christian Niyonkuru is an auto tech student at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center and also takes classes at Cascade High School. Niyonkuru came to the Puget Sound as a Rwandan refugee and orphan in fifth grade. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

An orphan from Rwanda finds freedom at his own pace

Jean Christian Niyonkuru pursues his love of cars at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center.

EVERETT — Jean Christian Niyonkuru, 18, is an automotive technology student at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center. Niyonkuru came to the United States as a Rwandan refugee and orphan with his siblings. He appreciates the education system here that is allowing him to pursue his interest in cars.

Question: So what made you choose Sno-Isle and auto tech?

Answer: I heard about it from my older brother who went here and my older sister. My brother did engineering here and my sister did nursing. I heard about how excited they were. I love cars. I’m really into cars. I want to be working on the cars, take out the whole engine and put it back together.

Q: What is your home high school?

A: I come here, then afterward I go back to Cascade High School to study three other classes. I’m taking the classes that are required, which are government, English and math.

Q: You’ve gone to several high schools.

A: In the past five years I’ve lived different places with my brother. Freshman year I was at Cascade, then we went all the way out to Federal Way. Then we moved back. Junior year I went to Everett High School, and I came back to Cascade High School my senior year. It’s a lot of moving.

Q: Do you have other siblings?

A: I’ve got 12 siblings. We don’t all live together. Four of them are already married and out and have their own families.

Q: You came here after your parents died because of the war in Rwanda.

A: I grew up and I came here when I was 9 years old. I haven’t gotten into the deep story of the war. I heard things from my brother. It was just horrible things. I’m just glad I got the opportunity to come here and get an education. I came here and I started in fifth grade in elementary school and worked my way up. I was living in foster care. (The goal was) being together as a family. I was in Kent. Some of us were in Everett, Seattle — I don’t even know. I was young. We were all separated. We got each other back, as a family.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Right now I’m applying for scholarships and looking at colleges. I applied to the Universal Technical Institute in Arizona. I start Aug. 13. I’m going to learn more of what I don’t know. Every single day, we’re learning.

Q: How did you get into cars?

A: Just watching my brother at home working on his own vehicle. I just thought that was so interesting. “What is he doing? It looks so cool.” It’s more getting my hands dirty and knowing how to fix my own car.

Q: What’s your favorite car?

A: I want to own a BMW. I’m interested in those cars. … My goal is to be a manager and work for the BMW company.

Q: What’s been the most challenging thing in school?

A: Getting things done in a short amount of time. Safety is first. There was one time I was changing the disc brakes and my bus was about here, and as I took the air gun (I gripped it the wrong way). It took off part of my skin on my thumb. There was blood. I got a towel — I had to finish work.

Q: What have you enjoyed most?

A: You get to do things at your own pace. I just love having that freedom to go into the shop when you feel you’re ready to work on the cars.

Q: What advice would you give a freshman?

A: I would say basically each and every opportunity you have, take it. It’s not giving up, not being lazy — just getting it done. It’s your path, your future — not your friend’s, not your mom’s. It’s yours.

Melissa Slager: mslager@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3432.

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