November 28, 2023
By Sydni Whitfield, Staff Writer
Growing up in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, Mika Celicourt spent her free time investing in elementary kids and going to the beach. She spent most weekends by the ocean with her family. As she grew older, however, the corrupt government and intense political issues in Haiti were getting out of hand.
“People were protesting the government, especially in the capital,” Celicourt said. “Where I lived, it was peaceful most of the time, but when protests were happening in the capital, it was bad everywhere. There was a point when there was a lockdown because of the protests, and we could not leave our house. My parents decided that they wanted something different for me.”
In January 2020, just before the United States went on complete lockdown due to COVID-19, Celicourt moved from her hometown to Little Rock, Ark., leaving her parents and everything she had ever known behind. When the United States started implementing shutdowns to prevent the spread of COVID, her family joked that Celicourt couldn’t escape the government-enforced shutdowns.
“It was so funny because we used to joke about the fact that I left Haiti because of a lockdown for political reasons, and then I moved here and there was another lockdown, just for a different reason,” Celicourt said.
Celicourt started attending school at Little Rock Christian Academy soon after. She did not expect to be so shocked by the cultural differences.
“Ever since I was three years old, I would come to the U.S. for tourist visits,” Celicourt explained. “I have family in Florida and New York, so we would visit during the summer. I thought I knew what the culture was like. What I didn’t realize was that when I came here in the past, I was always with my family. I could speak the same language I always spoke when I was with them, but that changed when I officially moved here.”
Celicourt quickly realized that the education system and the way children grew up in the U.S. were both vastly different from what she had experienced in Haiti.
“I couldn’t get my classmates’ sense of humor at first,” Celicourt said.“I couldn’t find it funny.”
Since Celicourt speaks two languages other than English, she would attempt to translate any joke she heard in French before she would process the meaning behind it in English.
“I realized that even when I told jokes, people wouldn’t necessarily get it once I had finally translated it from my language to English,” Celicourt explained.
Celicourt stayed in touch with her parents regularly and talked with her host parents about her struggles at school. They encouraged her to keep trying and to get involved. Celicourt started participating in theater at Little Rock Christian Academy.
Ever since Celicourt moved in with her host family, she has been connected to Ouachita. Her host parents and two of her host siblings attended OBU. Celicourt’s host dad used to jokingly say, “You can go anywhere you want, but my car only drives to Ouachita!”
At this point, Celicourt had never stepped foot on Ouachita’s campus. Because she had visited New York and Florida when she was younger, she had always imagined she would attend school in one of those states.
“My host parents were adamant that I at least visit Ouachita to see what it had to offer and what it was all about,” Celicourt said.
In 2021, her host parents took her to her first Tiger Tunes. On the drive there, her host parents told her stories about their days at Ouachita and all about the various events at Ouachita like Tiger Serve Day and Guard the Tiger. Going into the Tiger Tunes performance, Celicourt had no idea what to expect, but she was quickly filled with a deep appreciation for both the students participating and the university they attended.
“I just remember being so amazed after the show,” Celicourt said. “I kept forgetting it was students who were performing. After that, I told my host parents that I was beginning to understand what they had been talking about.”
It wasn’t until Celicourt toured Ouachita’s campus that she really fell in love with the school. She was still unsure of what she wanted to major in at college, so she met with Dr. Tim Knight, professor of biology and dean of the school of natural sciences.
“I was very intimidated to meet with him because I felt like I needed to impress him, but we just had a normal conversation,” Celicourt explained. “He was so nice and answered all my questions. He gave us his undivided attention. It really says something about the school that a professor would be so intentional in setting aside time for a student to ask questions.”
Next, she met with Jason Greenwich, director of the Grant Center for International Education. In the college decision process, it was very important to Celicourt that she would have a good community of people she could connect with.
“Mr. Greenwich told me about the program for international students, what they do and what they are involved in,” Celicourt said.
After this meeting, Celicourt told her host parents that she could see herself going to OBU. Celicourt quit the other applications she had been working on and decided Ouachita was the place for her.
“My host dad was so thrilled that I would get to experience Ouachita,” Celicourt said.
Now a sophomore nursing major, Celicourt loves being so close to Little Rock so her sister can come visit her anytime. In her future, Celicourt would like to pursue some type of career in nursing, but she is undecided on what that career will look like.
“I always thought I’d want to be a pediatric nurse because of my passion for working with kids,” Celicourt said. “Once I got to Ouachita, though, I started talking with nurses who are involved in so many different specialties that I could see myself pursuing.”
Celicourt is very involved on campus as a member of the Ouachita Student Foundation (OSF), the Women of Tri Chi and the Honors Program. She is also a part of the Tiger Serve Day (TSD) leadership team. She has been on the TSD leadership team for several semesters and will start a new leadership role in the spring as the projects chair. This job comes with a lot of responsibility and is integral to the success of Tiger Serve Day.
“Being on the leadership team is rewarding because when I go to visit different projects, I get a chance to not only serve the community but also to meet the people that we are serving,” Celicourt said. “Also, the day of TSD is valuable in and of itself. We wake up early to prepare for the day, but everyone works together and brings the energy needed to finish strong. It is really amazing to hear the teams sharing about their projects at the end of the day. The stories are always unique, pleasant and a joy for all of us to hear.”
Celicourt’s journey to Ouachita was full of hard decisions, but she has found a home with an amazing community and education.