Williamson ‘Ya Ya’ Jacques believes educational opportunities in Haiti aren’t widely available for everyone.
The Keystone College senior would know firsthand, as he’s a native of Pétion-Ville.
This problem impacting youth in his home country has formed the basis of the international student’s future goals.
“I wanted to be a doctor,” Jacques said. “But since I see the major problem in Haiti is education, I changed my mind to be an education major.”
In Haiti, Jacques said a large percentage of schools are private, creating an economic divide.
“Without even exaggerating, I think more than 70 percent of schools are private, so we don’t have enough of public school, which prevents the lower class from going to school,” he said.
And this problem only worsens with higher education, where students still have few options.
“They leave Haiti to go somewhere else, like the Dominican Republic or the United States if they can afford it,” he explained. “After high school, it’s really hard to go into university.”
Unfortunately, Jacques fell into the category that doesn’t have the means to attend a university or college. In Haiti, he worked as a guide for visitors and often encountered Americans.
One day, he met David Porter, a Keystone art professor who was in Haiti for a service project, and shared his goals.
“I talked with him about my ambition to have a higher education,” Jacques said. “That was when he encouraged me to apply to see if I could get a full scholarship. Now I have a scholarship for Keystone College.”
Yitian Zuo, a Keystone junior from northeast China, saw studying in the U.S. as an opportunity to experience an educational system that fit him better.
“The American education system is more focused on guiding you to dig for your own knowledge, finding your own way to learn,” Zuo said. “The Chinese education system just gives you all the knowledge. They don’t care if you want it or not or like it. They just leave it to you, and that’s it.”
Zuo also enjoys contributing to discussions in class, which he said is not allowed in China.
“In America, you’re allowed to talk and you get rewards from talking. Teachers say you’re participating,” he said.
The international student is majoring in criminal justice and preparing for law school after graduation. He hopes to focus on the areas of international law and business law and return to China afterward to bring a new perspective to the field there.
“It’s out of time and they need something new and to refresh it,” he said.
What strikes him the most about this field is high incarceration rates in the U.S.
“It’s really interesting that Americans have so much more than the rest of the other countries,” he said, also noting that he wants to learn something he could use his entire life.
When Zuo was ready to look into higher education, he received emails from several colleges and universities, including Keystone.
“So I let destiny choose it,” he said.
At Keystone, Jacques’ major focuses on children and family services, as he sees himself more in the role of a social worker than an educator in the future.
He returns to Haiti twice a year while studying at Keystone, but plans to move back after earning his degree in hopes of enacting change in the education system, although this can be hard for his family and friends to understand.
“I think if I wanted to do something just for myself or my family, I would rather stay here, but to help my community where I’m from, this is an ambition for me to go back and provide services to my community, especially about education,” he said.
Through internships with two organizations in Haiti, he has helped organize educational activities for children.
Additionally, with the assistance of Keystone Coordinator of Civic Engagement and Service Learning Maria Fanning, he has used money from ‘Hope for Haiti’ fundraisers to help those in need when he returns throughout the year.
“It’s very important for me. The first $100 she gave me, I invested it in a young little boy,” Jacques said. “I decided to pay for schooling for him. It’s a way to give away what I have been afforded.”
Keystone Director of Multicultural Affairs and Student Activities Lucas Taylor said throughout his 10 years working at the college, he has met international students from all over, including Japan, Argentina, Albania, England and more.
Keystone offers programs helpful to international students such as English as a second language, Taylor said, and clubs like the Multicultural Affairs Student Association promote cultural diversity.
For Taylor, the overall goal of promoting diversity on campus is to create a “supportive and inclusive” community so students of all backgrounds can learn from one another.
“It’s offers a great perspective and also provides a unique collaboration with a lot of different students,” Taylor said. He used Jacques as an example of what international students add to a college campus.
“Having his experiences linked to our life here at Keystone really has opened the eyes of students and staff and faculty alike,” he said.
For Yuo, Keystone proved to be a “safe and peaceful area” with friendly students and faculty willing to guide him along as he navigated an unfamiliar country.
“You can always get help,” he said. “If you need something or if you have some trouble, they will help you. They always like to help.”
Between dealing with culture shock, a language barrier and Pennsylvania’s weather, the first few months at Keystone were tough for Jacques, but the college’s resources such as ESL helped him adjust.
“I felt that I was at home and comfortable. When I need help, I know where I should go to get help,” he said.
Jacques expressed gratitude toward Keystone for the opportunity it has given him to follow his ambitions and help his country.
“The only thing I can say to Keystone is a huge thank you that comes from the bottom of my heart,” he said.