25th September 2017

Winner 2016 – Essay Scholarship competition

Name: Modeste Kenne

College: Iowa State University

Citizen of: Cameroon

Scholarship known:

Through my school’s website.

Link: http://financialaid.iastate.edu/scholarships/view.php?id=2595

My Visa Application Process

I was born in Douala, Cameroon, located in west central Africa and moved a few months later to a small-town called Bamenda where I grew up. I’m a first-generation college student and fall in the group of people that are underrepresented in computer science and engineering (low-income, ethnic and racial minority). My parents did not complete high school; however, they have always wanted me to be well-educated and have struggled to help me succeed in my studies.  Although my dream has always been to become a computer engineer, I grew up in an environment where it wasn’t easy for me to use a computer.  We had a family computer that was restricted to use only on weekends and even on those days I had access to it for just a few hours. Those moments were the best thing that could have ever happened to me.   I made good use of the little time I had when using this precious device and my interest in learning more of it kept increasing.

As time went by, I knew that to excel in my field of study, I had to enroll in a school that had a good engineering program.   Consequently, I started searching for schools outside of my country. Since I was aware of my family’s poverty condition, I focused on schools in countries that were closer to Cameroon. The first countries I picked were Nigeria and South Africa.  My dream was to study in the United States of America although I knew it was going to be very difficult for me to get a visa. A couple of days after submitting my student visa application to those two African countries, something amazing happened to me that would  change my life forever.  I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. It was Thursday, September 6, 2012, immediately after my first class of the day, around 11:15 a.m.  As I was on my way to the school library, my best friend, François, ran towards me and said he found a great visa opportunity for us to travel to the United States.  He knew this was my dream, but I did not take him seriously until he told me that he was willing to give me the little money he had on him at that time (exactly 275 francs CFA which is about half a US dollar) so that we could go to a nearby electronic repair shop and rent a camera to take passport like photos. François was so optimistic about this application that he wanted us to start the visa process right away.

We rented the camera and I remember asking the pregnant woman selling oranges in the street to use her “gele” (a Yoruba head tie) as the background for our photo. (She later gave birth to a bouncing baby boy and named him after me, i.e. Modeste.) We used the “gele” to cover the banana trees that were in the background and after taking our photos we went straight to a cyber café and started our visa process.  We filled out our information on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.  Afterwards, I suggested to François that we stop by the church and say a little prayer about our application.

A couple of months later, after a hard day working on the farm, we gathered around the burning woods outside at sunset.  My grandmother looked in the sky and said: “ba wu á legɔ efe, ńdé ŋ̧́gɛ, o ó si ŋgɔ nta”, meaning, “I wish someday I would be able to see what is beyond this place”. This specific phrase would remain the most important phrase in my life.  I promised my grandmother that I would someday take her to the United States.

The next morning as I was still in bed, I kept thinking about my grandmother’s words and suddenly remembered the visa application I had previously submitted. I quickly got dressed and went to the cyber café to check my email and what did I see?  I had received an email from the USCIS requesting further documents for my visa application. It had been partially approved and I was just a couple of steps away from my dream coming true. The first thing that popped into my mind was my grandmother, and then François.

I went immediately to his house and together we looked at his application status as well, but unfortunately, his visa application had been denied. I was very sad for a moment and wished instead that he was the one with the approved visa.  The U.S. visa I had always dreamed about meant nothing to me.  All I wished was to be on this journey with François, however there was nothing I could do about the situation. A couple of days later, François came to my home and gave me an envelope with 50,000 francs CFA (about $90) for me to use towards the preparation for my trip. He worked so hard to get this money but decided to give it to me instead.  I couldn’t stop the tears from falling from my eyes as I hugged him. From that day on, we began to plan my trip and happiness started to grow again in our lives.

Having about $350, which included my savings and some money my mother had borrowed, I traveled to Yaoundé (Cameroon’s capital city) to apply for my passport. It took about three weeks to receive and as soon as I got it, I filled out a DS-260 form and paid a $230 fee. While the form was being processed, I submitted supporting documents such as my transcripts and other school related forms to the consular center. 

Afterwards, I went back to Dschang where I was living and waited for the complete review of my DS-260. A couple of months later, I received the email of a lifetime that I had been waiting for. The US embassy had scheduled my interview.  I needed to complete a medical exam in Yaoundé which included my medical history review, a physical examination, a chest X-ray, a gonorrhea test, a tuberculosis test and a couple of blood tests.  After my medical exam, the doctor gave me a form called DS-3025 with my results in a sealed envelope.  He told me I was not allowed to open it, but instead, was to bring it to my visa interview.

The day for the interview finally came.  Before meeting the interview officer, I paid another $330 fee and was ready to answer the hardest questions I could imagine about traveling to the United States.  I was surprised by the type of questions I was asked, such as my age, what I was studying in school and what I was going to do in the United States.  I was amazed how within five minutes, my interview was over. The consular agent kept my passport and other documents, handed me a note and told me to come back in two weeks to get my visa. On the note it was written, “Welcome to the United States of America.” I politely thanked the officer and left as if nothing had happened. Deep inside of me, there was a burning joy which I didn’t want to express while inside the building.  Before my footsteps managed to get to the door of the embassy, I discovered I was having an open conversation with myself. The joy I felt in that moment was so intense, yet just a couple of steps away from the embassy, I suddenly became sad. I was thinking about my friend François. I wished we could have made this journey together. I wished we would have both been welcomed to the United States and felt as if my joy was incomplete. I gave Francois a call right away and he was very happy for me. I went back home, shared the good news with my family and everyone was happy as well.

It was now time to plan my trip to the United States. Since my family didn’t have much, everybody helped me with the little money they could provide. My mom got another loan and my father sold our house in order to cover my travel expenses of about $3,000.   I later paid for my tuition and living expenses once in the United States.

Today, I’m very lucky to be in the United States and to have access to a great education at Iowa State University. My plan is to strive to earn a PhD in Computer Engineering (Embedded Systems) and help people, especially in Africa and other poverty environments, by creating new gears that will give them access to a free education via technology. After living in the United States for about four years without going home, I finally went back for a visit last December.  I was full of energy and very excited to meet with my family and especially to see François since we hadn’t seen each other since I left Cameroon.  I left Ames, Iowa on December 16th, 2017 to travel home.  I arrived there on December 18th just to realize that my friend François had died in a car accident the previous night on his way to pick me up from the airport. 

Receiving this scholarship is very important to me, my future education, to the memory of Francois, and to all of the people that supported my journey to Iowa State University.