Stories of Hope: Sylviane from Cameroon

Our Stories of Hope series is back for another inspiring installment. This month, we’re honored to shine a spotlight on Sylviane from Cameroon, sharing her remarkable journey and the unique thread she adds to our diverse community. Keep reading for a story that embodies resilience, dreams, and the strength that binds us all.

Life in Cameroon

The country itself is divided into two sectors: one English, and one French. Sylviane grew up in the French part, meaning she had to slowly learn English as an adult. Growing up in Cameroon, she describes her life there as a wonderful and simple life. Before coming to the United States, she worked at a French bank, where she made a decent living. She was able to travel often, spend time with her family, and hire help to do the things she didn’t like doing, like her laundry, driving, or cleaning the house. One of the big adjustments she had to make once she came to the US!

Thinking back on her childhood, she said it couldn’t have been better. She was happy, surrounded by her friends and family, beautiful nature, and a stable living and community. One of her favorite childhood memories is when she and her five siblings would walk from their house to their grandparents’ farm. Although they were technically there to help with the farming, it ended up being just a whole load of fun. They’d be free from the strictness of their household, running along the streets doing whatever their hearts desired. They could play outside for hours, soaking in the sun and fresh air. It was wonderful.

Coming to the United States

Being so happy with her life in Cameroon, she never really saw herself leaving. But one can never predict love! In her travels, Sylviane often found herself visiting the US, where several of her friends had immigrated before her. Through her friend, she met her now-husband, who she decided was worth leaving her life in Cameroon behind for. After several years of traveling back and forth, staying with him for weeks, or even months, at a time, he and their mutual friends convinced her that she should make the move to stay in the US permanently.

Although the decision came easily, the actual process was anything but. Sylviane describes how for several weeks, she would cry almost every day, thinking about the life she left behind in Cameroon. When asked how she felt when she finally made the decision, she says “It was hard, I have to be honest. I didn’t know what my life would be like, and I cried a lot.” All of her family, besides a brother who was already in the US, stayed behind, including her daughter, although they hope to be reunited officially in the US someday soon. Additionally, since her decision to stay in the US permanently was a spur-of-the-moment decision, Sylviane did not have much with her and still doesn’t. When she made that final journey, she came with the intention of a regular tourist visit, with just one suitcase, the majority of which was filled with gifts and treats for her friends. Once the decision was made, her mom cleaned out her apartment back in Cameroon, although she decided to keep all of the things for herself. Even now, Sylviane and her mom sometimes bicker about what belongs to whom. But that made it all the more clear that Sylviane was building a new life for herself here and that she needed to look forward to doing that, rather than looking to the past.

Living in the US permanently had never been in the cards for her, but, deep inside, she knew that the decision she made was the right one. What solidified it, even more, was when she realized how big of a support system she had around her, both in the US and among all of the friends who were already there to welcome her and her family back home. She describes that moment of realization as her most cherished memory in the US. 

The Immigration Journey

Sylviane’s experience with immigration was anything but pleasant, and she states how that made her journey to settling down in the US all the more difficult. “The immigration in Georgia was so difficult for me, every time I went to immigration, it was like they didn’t believe me like they thought I was lying,” she says. Because Sylviane’s immigration process began with turning a tourist visa into a marriage petition, everything about her marriage and her journey to the US was being scrutinized. However, because of the culture in Cameroon, there were things that Sylviane says were simply not things she knew or remembered because she didn’t think they were that important. “They would ask me for the exact address of a place I had been or somewhere I had worked and I just didn’t know. These were places that I knew how to get to because I had been there so many times, it was second nature,” she gives as an example.

However, the process smoothed out eventually, especially after Sylviane and her husband moved to North Carolina. With the help of the Hope Team and the hard work of Sylviane and her husband, she is now a proud lawful permanent resident. With luck, she hopes to bring over her daughter soon, as she can now petition for her as well.

Calling America Home

When asked if she feels at home here, Sylviane takes a moment to reflect. She says that although she’s been in the US for almost six years, she didn’t really start feeling like she belonged and was at home here until quite recently. Reflecting, she chalks it up to the fact that she was hesitant to truly settle and put down roots. However, upon reflecting on herself, she decided that she needed to stop living in the past and look forward to the future; “there’s no use just thinking about the past and the life I had then. This is the life I have now and I have to work to move into the future in this new life and home.”

With this new outlook, Sylviane also describes how she has changed. The way she views herself and her identity shifted once she decided to be more welcoming to the changes in her life. As a result, she’s started branching out more, like going into the office to build a relationship with her coworkers, rather than working from home. She also describes how she’s become more adventurous and open with food, expanding the dishes she’ll try, especially the American ones. Although she still loves to eat and cook Cameroonian food, she’s open to experiencing the cuisine her new home has to offer. When asked if her husband likes her cooking, she laughs, saying that he actually prefers the African food over the American food he is used to.

Although her start in the US was a bit rocky, Sylviane found her footing and is excited to see what the future holds. Looking forward, she is beginning to create new dreams for herself, like how she wants to own her own home one day and wants to bring her daughter to the US to the true family she hopes for. When asked if she ever wants to return to Cameroon, she doesn’t hesitate to say yes; “That’s still where my heart is, but my heart is also here now. I don’t know what is in the future, but I would love to go back someday.” Thinking about it, she sees a potential life of living in both places throughout. Essentially, she now has two places to call home, which is a wonderful sentiment.

Community and Immigrants

When asked what her message to the community about immigrants was, she had a wonderful sentiment.

“The world is such a big and diverse place and everyone has different experiences. Because of this, we learn and adjust to different cultures. Something that I think is normal may be completely incomprehensible in different countries. But just because the big world has become a small village, we don’t have to judge someone according to our standards. Everyone is unique and different and has something to bring to the table. That’s what makes the world a beautiful place. 

What I think people should know is that everyone should be treated with respect. Everyone is good at different things and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Having a diverse community means that we bring everyone’s strengths together. Traveling made me understand that just because someone doesn’t speak the way we do does not mean they are not smart. And coming to America contributes a lot to this realization. We all have our skills and ways to contribute. If we respect each other, that goes a long way. 

Coming to America was tough, but I know it made me a better person compared to who I used to be. And now that I have finally adjusted my mindset, I’m ready to live my American dream.”

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