As I look back at my CLCS experience in Haiti, I cannot help but reminisce on the feelings the experience evoked. I am grateful to my parents, who patriotically decided to have all of my siblings in Haiti, but nevertheless chose for us attend CLCS both for its Christian values and for the American style education it allowed us to pursue. My experience was one of being caught in two worlds, worlds that interacted only when necessary; I was an American at school and a Haitian at home.
There was an endless tug between my worlds as I went back and forth, and at points, the lines would blur. At home my siblings and I would dialogue in English, despite still living and breathing our Haitian surroundings. The MKs would go back to their North American, European, or African value systems after school, while my siblings and I and the other Haitian students would return to our Haitian homes. We lived in a dichotomy. I remember going to school in pants when we had a sports activity, but due to our societal expectations my mother would always making sure that I changed into a skirt before returning home, because after school we walked by the Christian mission where to wear pants would be unacceptable.
Among our Haitian friends, we didn’t completely fit in enough because we were the kids that attended the “American school.” When we were in the US, among our Haitian-American cousins, we didn’t completely fit in either because we were the cousins from Haiti that spoke English well ,knew enough of the culture, but had a stricter Haitian upbringing, which didn’t always allow us to be “cool.”
I remember being stuck with my elder brothers in the US during the 1994 Haiti embargo and going to school in Florida for a short timeframe and doing relatively well in school but taking time to socially fit in.
For an international student this experience is unique. Whether working through getting a visa to financing your U.S education, this is only a fragment of the experience. As an international student born and raised in Haiti, it was while attending school in America, when I realized that there were differences between how I perceived the world and what others’ perceived of the world.
Maybe I was just too naive, but somehow I guess I took for granted my acute awareness of many cultures. I thought that it was normal to be aware of cultures and differences. For the first time in my life I had people asking me questions like: Where is Haiti? Is it in Africa? How come you speak English so well? Hmm, you don’t sound Haitian? Aww, you’re from Haiti, I hear it’s very poor there – how was life like for you? It took me a while to realize that my culture and experience, which I had assumed that everyone was aware of, required some major explaining for many.
I also had to understand what it was like living away from my home in Haiti and integrating with the American culture while simultaneously learning to keep and respect my own nature. I wasn’t just on vacation and couldn’t just dismiss the differences and/or misunderstandings and I wasn’t just reading about U.S. history in a classroom - this was real life , in a real culture where people had different understandings of my culture and theirs and me vice versa. Did I ever get it 100% right? No, but I think going through the experience of being an international student , as many would attest, is learning a lesson of a lifetime, expanding your view of the world, and reconciling the differences between your beliefs and experiences:
· From dealing with roommates with different backgrounds,
· To experiencing snow for the first time, to missing Haitian food and wishing you could be home,
· Navigating two cultures, describing things in cre-english (mixture of Creole and English) without even realizing it,
· Becoming too American for your parents but still being too Haitian in many ways,
· Being in awe of the questions asked of you then somehow finding the “right” or fitting answer, celebrating your culture at international student activities,
· Sharing your experience with others that genuinely want to learn about your culture, dismissing ignorant comments,
· Learning about the American culture through the eyes of people from different backgrounds and experiences,
· Trying new things,
and finally, just appreciating the experience as a whole.