“When I was 11 years old, my high school in Haiti got attacked. People literally came with guns and started shooting. My mom got scared and sent me to America. I thought I was on vacation, so on my return date, I was packing my bags but then my uncle told me I’m not going back anymore. That’s how I started living in America. I didn’t have a choice. When my parents got divorced while I was growing up in Haiti, I also didn’t have a choice. Unlike a lot of people who want to study abroad or be an expat, I was pretty much exiled to America because Haiti wasn’t safe. Another difference is the fact that I was an immigrant, not an expat. It’s not like I asked for it. I just got shoved into that situation. I couldn’t even speak English at the age of 12.
“Also, I was only allowed to stay in America because I was a minor under the care of my guardian, my grandmother, who’s a naturalized citizen. As soon as I turned 18, I became an adult and was in danger of becoming an illegal alien. So, when it came time for college, I had to go with universities that could give me a full ride. This meant I could only make it to the top schools with private funding, which happened to be Ivy League schools. Public schools are cheaper, but you must pay out of state or country taxes. Early on, I learned that there are no safety nets. This is how I got the drive to always want to strive.
Then one of the biggest earthquakes in Haiti took place while I was stateside. I got back from school and when I saw the news, my initial reaction was to call home. But all the lines were dead, so I couldn’t get in touch with anyone. Imagine for two weeks, you have no contact with your family, what do you do? Are you going to remain positive or will you go down that negative route and prepare for the worst? So many scenarios played in my mind.
“Two weeks later, my phone rang in class, which was prohibited but they made an exception for me. On the other end of the line was one of my siblings in Haiti, who told me everyone was fine. I burst into tears that day. Then my mom spoke to me and said something that still resonates with me today: ‘What’s going on in Haiti is what’s going on in Haiti. We sent you to America so you can get a better education and life. Why are you worrying about the things in Haiti that are out of your control? You’re just causing yourself problems. Focus on what you need to do. If you can help us, then great. But if there’s nothing you can do about our situation then don’t even think about it.’
“This is how I learned the ability to focus to the point of being cold. Now I’m trying to unteach myself that because I’ve been doing it for so many years that I’ve started to forget how it feels to not be cold. It’s a balancing act.”
Stéphane is the founder and CEO of Archive, K.K., a branding consultancy firm.