Civil Engineer: Testimony of a Haitian student at the University of New Orleans (UNO)

Martin Klôwè -Bordeaux

Lauryn is 22. She is a second-year civil engineer student at the UNO. This young Haitian woman is athletic and determined to achieve her goals. When she is not studying, she is playing her guitar, singing or drawing.

A daily struggle : 

Having landed in the US after graduating from the  »Petit collège Saint-Martin de Porres » in Haiti, Lauryn shares her story with us. She tells us how she integrated into the American society as a young female foreign student.

Question/answer :

Can you describe the UNO?

 »The UNO is a really good university. It’s very international with many foreign students, so there is a lot of diversity. It’s not a big campus. I would say this is why it is easy to be integrated in this system. It was even easier for me because I did the IELP (Intensive English Language Programme) which helped me to improve my English. I did it during my first six months, because before coming here I couldn’t speak English. I don’t know how things worked out for those who didn’t go to the IELP,  or if they ended up understanding the culture and how things work here. I really recommend this programme to anyone who is thinking about coming here. »

Why did you choose the UNO?

 » First of all, I chose to live with my dad here in New Orleans. Since he knew what I wanted to do, he directed me to UNO as it seemed to be the best choice. Since high school, I have always enjoyed building things. When I was younger, I loved making houses out of cardboard. » 

How did you prepare to go to the US?

 »Well, my dad did everything. I don’t really know how he did it. It took him all of one month to get all the paperwork done. He really worked hard to organize an appointment at the embassy. It’s not an easy thing to get a visa. »

What is the teaching style like for civil engineering classes at UNO? Is it more practical or more theoretical? Do you get to go in the field?

 »It’s a little bit of all of that. We work a lot in class and sometimes we have to solve problems, mathematical problems most of the time. We go in the field as well to observe what the work of an engineer is like and to practise theories we learnt in class. This programme is very demanding as we have to spend a lot of time working. » It’s a 3-year degree that costs about 6000 euros per year.

What is it like to be a young woman studying engineering?

Being a woman in civil engineering can be intimidating, but women bring a different perspective to the field–a more feminine touch. I believe that anything that a man can do, a woman can do it too when it comes to a job. It’s all about putting your mind to it. 

Do you think that it’s harder for you because you are seen more as Black than Haitian?

Not really, because as soon as I open my mouth to speak they hear my accent and notice that I’m not a native English speaker lol. Of course, if somebody is just judging from my skin colour, they will always identify me as a black woman, but under that black skin there is thick Haitian blood running. As long as I know who I am, I don’t worry about how other people see me.

Can you describe life on campus ?

 »It’s a really active campus with many different activities. There is always something to do. Often there is ‘open mic’ and on Fridays, student’s associations organise different types of events. »

Lauryn at an open mic event
Lauryn’s drawing

Now you are working the IELP. What are your tasks?

 »I help students with registration procedures. Generally they call from their respective countries and when they get here, I help them to integrate. I know what it is to come to a new country and to have no friends or family here. I can translate French and sometimes Creole. I understand Spanish but can’t speak it. »

Do you like this international environment ?

 »Yes, I love it, because there are many of us, foreign students, trying to understand this system. So I’m not alone, there are a few of us who are facing the same problems. »

Could you describe a regular day as a high school student in Haiti?

As a high school student in Haiti, I would wake up very early in the morning, around 5 or 6 if my school was far, then get ready and leave for school. The majority of the population use public transportation which we call « kamyonèt ». At school we usually had classes from 8am to 10am, a break of one hour which we call « récréation », where we ate if we had the money for it and chatted with classmates, then got back to the classroom. Some schools used to finish at 1pm while others finished at 3pm. After school we would take another « kamyonèt » back home where we would usually study.

Did you have a culture shock coming to the US?

 »I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even know I was coming here a month before landing. Everything happened very quickly, so yes, I did have a culture shock, even with the food. I don’t like American food. Also, in my country, you say hi to everyone as you pass by. You say,  »Ay tonton, ay matant ». Here, they don’t. They’re just there, and they never smile. It was really hard for me at first because I thought that people simply didn’t like me. Everyone is busy and always in a rush. During my first few weeks here, I didn’t really talk because people didn’t have time to listen. »

How does one live in Trump’s country as a foreigner ?

The secret is to do what you have to do legally. Trump is ignorant and doesn’t have compassion for people who are not white Americans. But if the world was like he wished, it would be so boring, without any diversity (laughs). That’s why I don’t really care about what he says. I’m not a very political person. I listen to politics

sometimes, but that’s it. »

What do you plan to do after completing  your degree?

 »I don’t know, I’m thinking about it. Studying is expensive. If I have money, I would like to continue my studies. My next step will probably be graduate school with a concentration on Transportation and Highway Design. »

Can you tell us about your projects for the future?

 »I want to graduate and become an engineer to make my mother proud. She never had the chance to go to another country or to study. I want to do something of which my family will be proud. »

What would you tell students who would like to come to UNO?

 »Before coming here, be sure about what you want to do, be motivated and make sure you have enough money, because the cost of living is very high here, especially in comparison to that of Haiti. Be ready mentally because you might meet racists, and people who will want to humiliate you. »

Do you think that you could work in Haiti ?

« I would love to give back to my country. My generation is the future of Haiti, so getting an engineering degree in the US and applying that knowledge to help rebuild Haiti would be my way to give back. As long as there is a president by then who is willing to help young educated people like me to give back to the country. »

We wish you good luck Lauryn!

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