By Mallory Schlabach, Editor in Chief
Twenty-four students traveled home-a place they haven’t been in two years-this summer. For Laza Razafimanjato, the two-and-a-half-month visit to Madagascar was an incredible, yet apprehensive experience.
“It was weird because I didn’t know what to expect from my family or what they would look like,” said Razafimanjato, junior interior design major from Antananarivo, Madagascar. “I just wanted to know what their reactions were to me after two years.”
When the group of students arrived at the airport at 5 a.m. in capital city Antananarivo, it was greeted at the gate by family and friends.
“They were really happy to see me, and my mom and dad cried,” Razafimanjato said.
Razafimanjato said he spent his summer relaxing and hanging out with family and friends.
“I didn’t work or do any internships like many did,” he said. “I just wanted to spend time with my family and friends because I missed them.”
Others spent time working and traveling.
Rotsy Rasamimanana traveled along the coasts of Madagascar and spent several weeks interning at a local business.
She said she first spent time at home with her family, then she traveled on the east and west coasts attending different events in the country, like July 4.
“We were all invited to go to the presidential palace for Independence Day,” said Rasamimanana, junior business management major from Antananarivo. “It was an impressive white house but not like America’s White House.”
In August 2004, these students arrived after flying more than 24 hours to Abilene from an island country the size of California. Madagascar, home to 17 million people, is located off Africa’s eastern coastline in the Indian Ocean.
In a deal with the president of the country, these students were selected to attend ACU for four years. After they finish school here, they will return to Madagascar for at least two years to either work or continue their education.
John Tyson, vice president of development, is the main reason these students attend the university.
After a trip to Madagascar to meet with various business and government leaders, Tyson was invited to meet with the president, Marc Ravalomanana.
“He asked me about the university, and I told him we were looking for students who wanted to come and study here,” Tyson said. “He said that is what he was looking, and he said he would send 22 students, but we were able to take 24.”
Once a deal was settled, Tyson said they only had one month to advertise in Malagasy media that students would have the opportunity to study in the U.S.
The government sent out messages that students could apply to ACU during May using the English, French and Malagasy languages.
More than 1,000 applications were completed, so they began sorting and narrowing down through committees and help from residents in Madagascar until 24 were chosen.
Now, two years after they first set foot in Abilene, their transition has been phenomenal, Tyson said.
“They’ve done extremely well,” Tyson said. “It’s remarkable to have a cohort group of students, it doesn’t matter where they are coming from, to matriculate through like these 24.”
One of the main criteria for applicants was that they had received the equivalent of a high school diploma by 2003.
“All 24 are back and ready for their junior year, all are in good academic standing and on pace to graduate on time,” he said. “That’s probably unprecedented. It’s been a tremendous challenge, and I’m very proud of them.
“It takes a lot of courage to travel across the world to go to a university and study in a language that is not your first language or second language, but your third language.”
Razafimanjato and Rasamimanana said they feel they’re adjusting well, although after more than two months at home, they’re rusty on English.
“I forgot English while I was at home because I only spoke French,” Razafimanjato said. “I guess it’s OK though, because after two years in America I was forgetting my French, too.”
Language wasn’t their only barrier while at home.
Razafimanjato said it was strange to see his friends again.
“It was weird to me because we didn’t have the same relationship,” he said. “I expected that we had the same relationship we had two years ago, but they all went on with their lives.”
Rasamimanana agreed and said she too found it different to see her friends again.
“They weren’t familiar with American brand names and thought I was different for wearing American Eagle or Aeropostale,” she said. “All they know is Nike.”
Despite differences in their homeland, both said it was nice to be home.
“I want to continue my schooling after ACU, but I will always go back to Madagascar, it’s where I’m from,” Rasamimanana said.
She said she wants to one day open her own exporting business to help balance out Madagascar’s trading habits. As for Razafimanjato, he wants to continue his education upon his graduation from ACU.
And while Abilene may not be the tropical island they know and love, it’s a school they’ve come to enjoy.
“We watch movies in Madagascar from Hollywood,” Rasamimanana said. “So I think things will be like that when I got here. But ACU is a Christian university, so it is different than what I see in the movies. But I like it this way.”