By Ed Brennen
Ann and Roosevelt Tsewole were enjoying, by their own measure, a “great life.”
After meeting at UMass Lowell in 1994 and getting married in 1997, the Tsewoles settled in Dracut and were raising three kids: Brit, Easmond and Bernice. By 2005, they both had jobs they enjoyed. Ann (Isaac) ’94, who earned a bachelor of science in biology from the Kennedy College of Sciences
, was working at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center on a grant she’d received from the National Health Services Corps. Roosevelt ’95, who earned a bachelor’s degree in management from the Manning School of Business
, was in charge of information technology for a business communications company in central Massachusetts.
“We had really nice jobs and we were very involved,” Ann recalls. “But we noticed that we didn’t have as much good, quality family time as we would like.”
Ann sat down with Roosevelt one night to discuss their family’s future. Roosevelt was flipping through the pages of a magazine as they talked and stopped on an advertisement for career opportunities overseas with the U.S. Department of State.
“Why don’t you join the Foreign Service?” he asked on a whim.
Ann, a Sierra Leone native who emigrated to the United States with her family at age 10, was intrigued and decided to apply. A year later, in September 2006, the Tsewole (pronounced say-wo-lay) family left its life in the Merrimack Valley behind and moved to Malawi in southeastern Africa, where Ann was hired as the medical attaché for the U.S. Embassy. It would be her job to make sure embassy employees and visiting U.S. dignitaries had access to any local medical care they needed.
In the decade since, Ann’s rotating State Department work has taken the family to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Sri Lanka and Bahrain, where she is currently in the middle of a two-year posting. Roosevelt, a Cameroon native who emigrated to Lowell in 1989, put his IT career on hold for the family’s international adventure. He’s found work at the embassies along the way, including his current job of helping new diplomats find housing during their posts.
“We’ve been able to bond as a family and spend more quality time together than I think we would have in the States, where we were always being pulled in different directions,” Ann said recently by phone from Bahrain, a small island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.
The Tsewole kids have grown up immersed in different cultures and, at the embassies, have met Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Mike Pompeo. They’ve also attended top English-speaking schools in each of the countries in which they’ve lived, where their classmates have included the children of world leaders. (Once, when Brit forgot her basketball shoes, the daughter of Cameroon’s president took off her shoes and lent them to her.)
When it came time for college, though, the Tsewole kids found themselves pulled in a familiar direction – back home to attend their parents’ alma mater. Brit is currently a junior business administration
major with a concentration in management information systems (MIS
), while Easmond is a sophomore business administration major with a concentration in finance
. (Bernice is still a junior in high school in Bahrain.)
Perfect medley: IT and music
“UMass Lowell was always on my list,” says Brit, who also considered Pace, Fordham and Temple universities but ultimately chose to return to the place where she’d lived until age 9. The family held onto their home in Dracut after moving abroad, and Brit now lives there as a commuter student. “It’s nice to have that kind of anchor, moving back here.”
While Brit is following in her father’s MIS footsteps and is “passionate about IT,” she also has another passion: music. She’s the founder, lead singer and guitarist for a four-piece jazz-punk band called The Seawolves (“Seawolf” was her nickname in middle school when kids couldn’t pronounce her last name).
“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” says Brit, who balances a part-time job in Methuen with six hours of rehearsals each week. She also manages the band’s marketing and lines up basement shows and gigs at local venues such as the Worthen House Cafe. In September, The Seawolves released their first EP, “Suffering and Smiling.”
“Hopefully, I can make music a career,” says Brit, who purposely chose not to pursue a degree in music at UML. “Music is my identity in a way, and to study it in school would be putting it in too much of a box. When it comes to my art, I don’t want it to be confined.”
Instead, she’s learning the business side of music through her courses in the Manning School. She says Visiting Faculty Lecturer Paul Keyser has taught her how to be more creative with her marketing content, and her Organizational Behavior class with Asst. Prof. Elana Feldman
has helped her understand how to keep a band together. (“When they say it’s expensive to bring someone on to a new job, now I know exactly what they mean,” she says.)
Thanks to her experience growing up around so many different people, Brit’s also discovered that she’s a good networker – which comes in handy when promoting her band.
“The scene around Lowell and at school is so welcoming, so I’ve been able to move my music career up the ladder,” she says. “I’m definitely happy I chose to come here.”
And now that her younger brother Easmond is on campus, Brit has an even wider network.
‘A business mindset’
“We’re all River Hawks and we love the school,” says Easmond, who had UML atop his list when applying to college. Besides the “familial bonds” he felt for the school, he was drawn by a newfound appreciation for Lowell’s rich history.
“Because of oil, everything is very new in Bahrain, like it is in Dubai and Qatar,” Easmond says. “While it’s very luxurious and I do enjoy being over there, it’s not nearly as authentic as Lowell. There’s not that level of plasticity here, where you have old mills and history that’s unmatched in the rest of the country.”
Living abroad sparked interests in finance, international business and politics that Easmond is now cultivating in his courses and extracurricular activities. The Honors College
student is treasurer of the Manning Consulting Group, serves as a Student Alumni Ambassador
and is the statewide rep for the university’s MASSPIRG chapter, where he’s working to register students to vote in local and national elections.
Last summer, Easmond returned to Bahrain for an internship at the U.S. Embassy. Working in the finance department, he learned about converting international currencies, processed embassy bills and invoices and assisted with budgeting. He also helped coordinate a visit from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, the senior advisor and son-in-law of President Trump.
“I really enjoyed being there for that. It was a great experience,” says Easmond, who notes that embassy work is completely apolitical. “We don’t discuss politics; we’re there for work. It’s a very courteous environment.”
Could politics be in his future someday?
“Potentially, but I also really like nonprofit work,” he says. “I’m interested in opening a microfinance bank in a developing country in Africa to help the population start a business mindset, so we can see more economic growth there.”
He also plans to do more traveling. In January, Easmond is taking part in the Honors Study Abroad trip to Cuba
– which will come on the heels of a 10-day trip to Bahrain to see the family.
“It’s going to be a busy December,” says Easmond, who, like Brit, is happy with his decision to attend his parents’ alma mater. “I really enjoy the academics here and adore the professors. They really care about the students.”
‘She was the one’
Perhaps because of his diplomatic upbringing, it’s not unusual to see Easmond wearing a suit on campus.
“He always dressed well,” Ann says with a laugh before noting that Roosevelt also used to wear suits when he was a student.
Ann and Roosevelt met during the spring semester of her senior year. After rebuffing him several times, Ann agreed to one date with Roosevelt when they crossed paths in the elevator at Olsen Hall. On the drive home from dinner at the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, Roosevelt suggested that they get married.
“That’s kind of strange to say on the first date,” Ann remembers thinking. But she’d heard similar lines before. “It was so funny, because usually when a guy would talk about marriage, I would just bust out laughing. But I remember looking out the window and thinking, ‘Hmm. I’m not laughing this time around. What’s different about the situation?’”
“I just sensed that she was the one,” Roosevelt says. “She had everything.”
Ann suggested they give it six months “to see if it’s something that will last.”
They’ve been married for 23 years.
After their youngest, Bernice, goes to college, Ann says she will put in five more years with the State Department. Then, they may move back to Dracut to begin the next chapter of life.
They didn’t pressure Brit and Easmond to attend UML, nor will they push Bernice to do so.
“They do what they want,” says Roosevelt, who had an aunt and uncle that attended UML. “As long as they stay on the right track, that’s all that counts. We just support them.”
Ann, whose two brothers attended UMass Amherst, always wanted to live in Massachusetts because of its world-class higher education. She hopes her kids “keep shining” at UMass Lowell.
“We’re a big UMass family, and all of us have done very well,” she says.