By Sarah Carlson, Copy Editor
When Tiana Andriamanana arrived in Texas for the first time, she not only was overwhelmed by the heat and confused by the accents, but she noticed something about Americans.
“They eat a lot of food-too much for us,” Andriamanana said. “I ordered a hamburger, and it was too large to eat.”
Andriamanana is one of 22 students from the Republic of Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of Africa, attending ACU this fall on a special scholarship.
Almost 100 faculty members and students welcomed the students at a reception in Sowell Rotunda in the Biblical Studies Building on Aug. 4. Dressed in matching ACU-purple polo shirts, the students wound their way up the stairs to an echoing applause from the crowd.
Dr. John Tyson, vice president for development, welcomed the crowd and described the arrival of the Malagasy students, as people from Madagascar are called, as a journey.
“What a powerful testimony to the influence of 98 years here at this university,” he said.
Tyson took part in both the first and second U.S.-Madagascar Business Council trade missions in November and April, respectively, as the only representative of higher education.
He met with Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana, whom he described as a successful Christian businessman who wants to help bring his country out of poverty. The ambassador to the United States from Madagascar, Rajaonarivony Narisou, visited the campus in March in order to assess the university for the president.
A plan was developed to send Malagasy students to ACU on a four-year, fully paid scholarship funded by the government of Madagascar, called the Madagascar Presidential Scholars Program.
Advertisements for the scholarship appeared in May on national radio, television and newspaper ads in Madagascar. Tyson said only students who finished their high school diplomas in 2003 were eligible to apply because the 2004 final exams in high school were not completed until mid-July.
Applications from 1,031 people came from all over the nation for the program.
The requirements for the scholarship are that the students complete their degrees in four years and return to Madagascar for at least two years upon graduating.
Applicants also had to have a basic understanding of the English language, Tyson said, and all 22 students are at different levels of proficiency, especially because they come from different regions of the nation.
Many of the students, like Moustafa Assany, arrived with only clothes. Tyson said part of the scholarship included a package of basic necessities for students here, such as toiletries, linens and laundry hampers.
Members of the Hillcrest Church of Christ are helping by buying the students other items, Tyson said, and he said he thinks members from University Church of Christ are helping as well.
He said all the students are getting on-campus jobs in order to help pay the cost of living.
Adjusting to West Texas
Tyson said President Ravalomanana met with the students before their departure to the United States to describe his vision for the country and a belief that the keys to overcoming poverty are Christianity and education.
Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen, provost, told the students at the reception they are joining a wonderful community and described Ravalomanana as a caring individual working to better his country.
“He cares not only about the development of the mind and the intellect but also the development of the heart,” VanRheenen said at the reception.
One thing the students love to do is sing, Assany said, and the group sang at the reception as well as the freshman talent show during Welcome Week.
Tyson said the group sings out of joy and were even singing in the airport and in customs during their journey to Abilene.
Assany said he likes America and ACU but said life here is a lot busier than back home.
“Here, there is a lot more homework,” Assany said.
He said it is exciting being in the United States because of the nation’s power and that it is more developed than Madagascar.
Assany is only taking courses to better learn the English language this semester, and he said he plans to major in business administration and management so that he can return to Madagascar and help improve the economy.
Davi Rakotonarivo Herintsoa said he is excited about coming to America and attending ACU to study political science. He said he wants to work with Madagascar’s government in the future and help improve the economy.
“I thought that it will be an advantage for our country if we go to the United States,” Herintsoa said. “We can learn here and bring the knowledge we learn back home.”
America has surprised him, and it is not what he expected it to be, Herintsoa said. He said it is beautiful, green and calm, and the people are nice.
Andriamanana said the only trouble is trying to understand what West Texans are saying because of their accents.
Tyson said he is glad the Madagascar government has made it possible for the students to come to Abilene for an education. He said many students from different countries want to come to places like ACU; they just lack the funding.
“There is no question it is an act of God” that the students are here, Tyson said. “They’re going to be with us for four years, then they’re going to go back and change the world.”