There is something that Lyndie Deessa Coulanges wishes her fellow Hornets knew about Haiti. Yes, there are hard times, as well as the current political crisis, which led to the postponement of this year’s Health for Haiti global service learning course.
But there’s more to the island nation than the news reports. It has a culture and traditions, and people like Lyndie herself, who is completing her degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences this semester and transferring on to complete a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.
“It’s a great country, most of the time. What we see on the news is all the bad side,” she said. “There are great people; the government now is the main problem.”
An international student, Lyndie grew up in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. After graduating high school in 2016, she applied to college in Haiti and hit some roadblocks. Her uncle, who lives in the area, suggested that she apply for a student visa and study in the United States.
She started at SUNY Broome the following August. While she was excited, she was also stressed; she didn’t have the mastery of English she needed to succeed. Her aunt recommended that she expose herself to the language as much as possible: watch movies in the language, and don’t be afraid to speak with people.
Bit by bit, she became fluent. Understanding professors also helped.
“The teachers are patient. When they know you’re an international student and you’re behind because of the language, they’re really patient with you. The students also help you, and advisors,” said Lyndie, who is a member of the college’s International Student Organization.
She had other obstacles to overcome, too. Upstate New York is far colder than the Caribbean and, as any New Yorker could tell you, snow sometimes loses its charm.
“I cried sometimes when I was coming to school on the bus, with that cold!” she said.
It’s also difficult to leave family and friends to attend college 1,600 miles away. Lyndie has experienced some lonely days, but the connections she forged at SUNY Broome helped her weather the tough times. ESL Professor Myriam Stanton particularly provided much-appreciated support, along with classmates and her church.
“I met great people at SUNY Broome,” Lyndie said.
In 2020, Lyndie will transfer to Bob Jones University in South Carolina to continue her studies in biology. Initially, she had dreamed of going to law school, but needed a different plan once she realized that Haiti has a different legal system than the United States. Her parents and friends advised the sciences or healthcare, both of which are connected to a range of in-demand careers.
The change in plans turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“After getting into biology, I realized that’s the thing I was made for. I worked hard and I got good grades in all of my classes,” she said. Long-term, she is weighing her options: perhaps medical school, or becoming a professor herself.
Lyndie typically returns home during breaks, but last January, she did so for a unique reason: She served as a translator for the 2019 Health for Haiti class, which provides humanitarian support to communities in her home country.
The Health for Haiti experience not only gave her the opportunity to connect with classmates, but also demonstrated her ultimate mastery of English – a task that had seemed so daunting when she first came to SUNY Broome.
“It was great helping people communicate. It showed me that I was improving in English, being the bridge between two languages,” she said.
Lyndie Coulanges is moving on from SUNY Broome, leaving the snow behind – but still able to draw on a network of support that contributed to her success. Wherever she goes, whether back home to Haiti or further afield, she will always be part of the hive.
“This is my first experience in college. It was really a great experience,” she said.