Senior Explains ‘New Life’ at Loy Norrix

By Claire Goodwin-Kelly

CGK
Senior Julienne Alphonse poses for her graduation photo in Malawi three years ago. Alphonse is preparing to graduate again, this time from Loy Norrix, this upcoming  June. Photo Credit, Claire Goodwin-Kelly

Senior Julienne Alphonse is looking forward to graduating high school… again.
Alphonse moved from Malawi, a small country near the Eastern Coast of Africa to the United States as a refugee in October of 2016, after graduating from Lilongwe Girls Secondary School, a public all-girls school.
“Going to school was one of my favorite memories from Malawi. High school over here is so chaotic compared to there,” said Alphonse.
The move to America was difficult for Alphonse, and although she has been speaking English all her life, the language barrier was still an issue for her.
“I speak British English, so some words are not going to be the same. In chemistry [class], you guys say uh-lew-mi-num (aluminum), but I say al-lew-me-nee-um. So English was kind of hard, trying to make it [British English] into U.S. English,” Alphonse said.
While Alphonse has struggled adjusting to the “new” language, she says the diverse student body at Loy Norrix has helped her feel accepted as a refugee.
Alphonse said, “The diversity [at Norrix] is pretty cool because it helps me learn a lot of stuff about the United States, like different beliefs and religions and stuff.”
According to the website “Niche.com,” Loy Norrix is an A plus rating in the category ‘diversity,’ which is determined by parents, students, and residents in the Kalamazoo area. Alphonse credits the school’s acceptance of different backgrounds as being a large part of what has made her second round of high school more bearable.  
Alphonse even confessed to feeling more accepted at Loy Norrix than in Malawi, explaining how she was treated with less respect at school since her parents were in Malawi seeking refuge and weren’t born there. Alphonse explained how her parents had fled to Malawi to escape the Rwandan Genocide, a civil war in Rwanda where a population known as the Tutsi were slaughtered.
Her parents found refuge in Malawi seventeen years ago and waited until they were given the opportunity in 2016 to move to the United States, which had been their goal all along. Alphonse said that she tried to keep that part of her history hidden from some friends in Malawi in fear of judgment.
Alphonse also felt under-represented as a woman, describing how schools and hospitals in Malawi had few to no women working in them.  Her awareness of such limitations on diversity has led Alphonse to make specific plans for her own future.
With graduation in just four short months, Alphonse has already started thinking about life after Loy Norrix. She’s been accepted to Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan University and Central Michigan University, and is waiting to hear back from both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Her plan is to go to college in Michigan, attend medical school in the United States and then head back to Malawi to work in her community as one of the few female doctors.
“I’m really excited to go to college because I’m going to be the first generation in my family to go because my parents didn’t get the opportunity to. I really want to go into medicine and then go back to Malawi and be a doctor there, or do my own clinic to help people in my community that don’t have access to good doctors. I also want to teach women to become nurses and doctors,” Alphonse said, explaining her well-thought-out plan. “That’s what I’m thinking, at least. I’m gonna take it as slow as I can. But that’s my dream.”