Submitted by Ian Christensen
My family has always been interested in the country of Haiti. My grandparents lived there for eight years when my mother was a child, and she told me stories about living there until I reached six years of age. Imagine my surprise when one day in 2006 my parents informed my siblings and me that we would be moving to the country of Haiti so that my father could teach Greek at a Bible college there. My siblings and I were very excited at the prospect of moving to Haiti, but we didn’t know the difficult steps that needed to be taken in order to allow us to live there.
In 2006, we visited Haiti for a week. While we were there, I made several friends, visited several different tourist sites there. We got to see some very pretty waterfalls, ride on motorcycles, and we got to swim in the ocean. My parents took us to visit so we could see the cool things about Haiti and want to go back there to live.
Before we could move down to Haiti, my parents joined World Team, a missions group that was heavily focused on the Caribbean. They were instructed by World Team to undergo training before they would be allowed to begin work in a foreign country. In order to begin the training, we moved from Wisconsin to North Carolina for three months where my parents went through the CIT (Center for Intercultural Training) course and were told that they could leave for Haiti after language school.
Language school was the next step because my dad would be teaching in a university setting. We needed to learn French, which is one of Haiti’s two most commonly spoken tongues. To achieve this, we moved to Quebec, Canada, to a small town called Lennoxville. We lived on the campus of a French language school called Parole de Vie-Bethel. We lived there for a year, during which I learned French fairly well, and my parents learned to speak it with some degree of proficiency. My siblings were, unfortunately, rather inept when it came to the language, although to be fair, they were only 5, 3, and 1.
From Canada we began making final preparations to move to Haiti. We already knew what city we wanted to live in, the town of Les Cayes, one of the four largest cities in Haiti. My father already had a position promised him as a professor at the Bible college there. All that was left for us to accomplish was to get our permits from the Haitian government that would allow us to live in Haiti while still remaining American citizens. This we did, and we moved down to Haiti in January of 2009.
It was quite an experience adjusting to life in Haiti. The culture of the Haitians is so vastly different than that of our own; we had many strange (mostly) and interesting (usually) encounters before we began to understand and adjust to the culture. One of the things that was very difficult to adjust to was the driving. There was a general disregard for traffic laws, and their methods were very erratic and often dangerous. There were no speed limits and many of the people driving didn’t have a license to their name. They did not think ahead well at all, and the direct result of this was that they often caused traffic jams that would last for hours. The only bright spot in their driving was how friendly they were in their driving. They were immune to road-rage, and they would even help the motorist trying to pass them. They would signal when it was safe to pass them, and they did not mind at all when they would be passed.
As a kid I loved climbing trees, warm weather year round, and making new friends from several different cultures. I had friends from Germany, Haiti, and the United States there in Haiti. We had a lot of fun together. It was really interesting, having three different cultures mixing together, all at the same time. My friend Jeremy (the German), was interesting to be around. He had a very different perspective and thoughts on life. He always brought an interesting viewpoint to our discussions. Joab was my best Haitian friend and best friend as a whole. He was the one who always brought a voice of reason to our debates. He was the most mature of our group. Peter was my best Haitian-American friend. He was an incredibly friendly person. He had a habit of making everybody around him smile. Playing nerf battles was always a fun challenge with people talking to each other in whichever language they could best get their point across.
Another adjustment we had to make was on how the Haitian people would communicate with each other. They did not consider the same subjects that we did taboo. They were perfectly willing to discuss religion, even with a perfect stranger. Another thing we found odd was how they had no concept of shame when it came to asking a foreigner for a handout. There was always a constant stream of visitors at our door, requesting financial assistance in one area or another. The most difficult part of that situation was deciding who we could help, because not only did we have to balance priorities, we also knew that some of them were lying to us and did not actually need any financial assistance at all.
Growing up in Haiti, on the whole, was a very beneficial experience in my opinion. I learned American culture from my parents, visits to the States, and my friends who still lived in the States, while I learned Haitian culture by living in their country and learning directly from the Haitians. This led to me having a unique worldview that is a blend of both American and Haitian culture as well as the wonderful blessings each contained. The experience was a rewarding one, and it allowed me to be able to distinguish the faults in both American and Haitian culture.
Moving anywhere is hard. Soon I will be leaving Haiti to attend university in the US. You leave the place you have known and the friends you have made in order to experience something new. The transition is even harder when you leave your own country and culture and are submerged in a completely new environment. The experience, however, can be a very rewarding one, as it was with me. Everyone fears change, and moving is a perfect example of extreme change. Change is a part of life. It is up to us to accept the changes that occur and grow because of them.
Submitted by Ian Christensen
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