The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 16, 2019 1:00 am

Golden Pen: May

International student has bittersweet time

As I end my fourth semester of studies in Indiana, I have begun to reflect on my experiences as an international student living, working and studying in the Hoosier state.

I have been welcomed into the homes of many great friends and, for the most part, I have been happy to call Indiana my second residence. The relationships I developed form lasting connections that I will forever cherish.

Yet, I also experienced discrimination and, sometimes, physical threats as a result of my background as a black international student from a small Caribbean island nation. I've encountered many surprised by my English language ability, despite the fact that I am studying at an English-language university in the U.S. and have native proficiency in French and Creole. I was also at the receiving end of derogatory language. I have been accused of coming to steal jobs in America and of being unlawfully present, despite solid documentation of my legal presence.

Unfortunately, my experience is not singular, nor is it an isolated case in the United States. Plenty of international students, while experiencing culture shock, are also at the receiving end of hateful comments simply because of their background. Furthermore, thanks to the color of my skin and where I was born, I am considered by some to be lesser than, or worse, subhuman.

When my younger cousins asked me about studying in Indiana, I was disheartened to tell them not to come because of all the negatives I've experienced. As I analyze my experience and the stories peers have shared with me, I believe cultural competency is critically needed if the state is to thrive, and foster a sense of equality and hospitality for the immigrants, international students and minorities who call it their home.

As I approach my last year of study, I hope to bask in the bittersweet feeling I get driving through the cornfields, maintaining hope that the negatives in my experience will no longer happen to future international students.

About the author

Chris Francois, a senior-to-be peace studies major at Manchester University, has been selected as the Golden Pen Award winner for May. In the judgment of the editors, her May 5 letter was the month's most effective.

The 20-year-old native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, “grew up traveling very frequently, particularly to the United States, due to my father's work as vice president of Socabank in Haiti during my childhood. This also helped me learned English at the same time as I was learning my mother tongues, French and Kreyol.”

Manchester University “reached out to me during my college search,” she said via email from New York City, where she is interning at Mouse in Manhattan, a national nonprofit working to expand access to computer science education. “... (E)ven though I didn't know much about Indiana, I took the plunge and came to Manchester thanks to the warm welcome and particular attention I received during the admissions process. I ultimately stayed in Indiana because the people made me feel like I was home.”

On the North Manchester campus, Francois is a resident assistant and president of the Manchester University International Association. Back in Haiti, she is founder of Delice Dental Health Initiative, which she now serves as the organization's director of marketing and communications.

Francois received a gold-plated inscribed pen for her efforts. The Golden Pen Award was established to express our appreciation for the contributions of our letter writers to the editorial page.

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