‘We stand in support with those who love democracy and liberty,’ French student says.
With terrorism, war, and refugee migrations claiming headlines, the international landscape too often triggers a sense of grim despair for many who watch the news.
An optimistic alternative was on display last fall at Seward County Community College, as students, faculty, and staff joined community members to celebrate International Student Day. Highlights of the event included the unveiling of a new flag to mark the arrival of Maritza Amancio, the first student from the Dominican Republic to attend SCCC/ATS, and remarks from French student Arthur Courbis, whose home is about 20 miles from Paris proper.
In a short speech, Curbs shared his thoughts about the violence that has marked Paris over the past week due to terrorist attacks.
“I want to think about the people who died,” said Courbis. “They were families at restaurants, going about their everyday lives, like us. They are broken. It could be any of us — your son, daughter, parents, friends at a concert, people who just want to live in happiness and freedom.”
Courbis thanked his fellow SCCC students, who hand-wrote personal messages of condolence and solidarity. Their sentiments of courage and love, he said, are shared by people in France.
“Today in France, all kinds of people are going out in the streets to show they are not going to be afraid,” he said. “These people are Christians, these people are Muslims, these people are Jews, some of these people don’t even believe in God, but that doesn’t matter because they are here to support democracy, to support liberty.”
In a rousing performance, Courbis sang the French National Anthem, and guests observed a moment of silence.
Courbis’ message exemplified what SCCC President Dr. Ken Trzaska challenged students to pursue: making a difference for good in the world.
“Your courage and smiling faces add a spark to our campus community, and we thank you for contributing to our campus and community life,” Trzaska told the group. “Each flag represents a story and an identity.”
Trzaska, who spent 15 years of his youth in Europe, living and traveling to countries in Africa, as well as India, Turkey, Israel, and many more, said the experience instilled in him “a unique and powerful sense of connection and obligation to care for our world, and tirelessly promote opportunities to learn and grow peacefully with one another. So be confident of yourselves and your ability to change this world,” he said.
The early-afternoon program included a taste of culture from around the globe: African dancers, vocal performances by students from Haiti, Vietnam, and Eritrea, as well as a personal speech by American student Ally Wright.
“I was diagnosed with the disorder called mutism as a young child,” Wright said to the crowd of more than 100 people. She explained the condition causes temporary paralysis of the vocal cords.
“All my life, I’ve struggled to have my voice heard, like many international students,” she said, “but I’ve learned that an illness doesn’t define who I am or how I live, just like the other people in ISO.”
“I’m blown away by the courage Ally Wright showed,” said Colvin Adult Learning Center Director Travis Combs, who attended the ceremony with students enrolled in English as a Second Language, GED, and Citizenship programs offered at the center. He added that he is impressed daily by his students, who come from 22 countries.
“We’re only through the first quarter of this academic year, and that’s a lot of people from a lot of different places already,” Combs said. “We have cultures that, outside of America, just don’t get along. But they step through the doors at Colvin, and all the barriers come down. It’s pretty awesome.”
In light of recent concerns about refugees and immigrants from around the globe, Combs noted that the best way to avoid radicalization or terrorism at home is proper integration into the community.
“Many of our students grew up in refugee camps, with their countries at war,” he said. “They arrive here with this incredible desire to be at home, to be part of something. If we, who are comfortable in Liberal and Kansas, don’t make the effort to reach out and include them, they would feel left out. Thankfully, we do a great job here in Liberal to encourage students to learn English, get educated, and become citizens.”
Combs said the staff at Colvin “go the extra mile to connect with our students. We had a kind of party where we explained to people how we celebrate Halloween in the U.S. — a lot of them were confused by the jack-o-lanterns, so we actually got pumpkins grown by the college’s agriculture division, and let them carve pumpkins.”
Tuesday, Colvin Center students from 16 countries, all of whom are learning English, participated in the program by displaying their flags, and introducing themselves in English.
Colvin student Mulugeta Tela, who immigrated from Eritrea, expressed gratitude for the warm welcome he has received in Liberal.
“I’m thankful for this place, where people can live and have a good life,” he said. “God did a lot of things for me. I had been for 15 years in war, but I thank Jesus Christ I could come to America.” Tela sang and played guitar as the final performance of the day.
As he picked out the notes to the song, one of his classmates, Huong Chieng, of Vietnam, held the music and the microphone for his fellow American resident. A member of a rock band in his former life, Chieng might not bother with a novice musician, in different circumstances. Here, however, he was glad to lend a hand.
“See,” pointed out Combs, “two people from such different places would never have this kind of relationship. That’s what I love about my job.”
“I don’t think there’s anything like this that happens in Liberal, during the entire year,” said Liberal resident Ruth Seth, who, with her husband, Bob, attended the event. “It makes me wonder what heaven will be like. It’s going to be wonderful.”
The event was sponsored by SCCC/ATS’ on-campus student group, International Student Organization, which currently has a members from 23 countries, including the United States.