All posts by Felicia Emmanuel

Hello! My name is Felicia Emmanuel and I enjoy singing, writing, and listening to music.

Change isn’t Easy: International Student Challenges at UVI


ST. THOMAS – Liliana Moreno comes to the Center for Student Success for about three hours every day where she works as a Learning Assistant.

Some of her time at the CSS is spent tutoring students in Spanish, but when she is not patiently explaining to her tutees how to conjugate stem-changing verbs and other difficult concepts in Spanish, she sits at a table by herself catching up on her assignments. She barely converses with the other learning assistants or other students inside the CSS. She would politely smile, though, and return a greeting, but she would hardly initiate a conversation.

At the end of her shift, she folds her laptop, signs out her hours, leaves the center and heads for her next destination.

More than a year ago, Liliana Moreno, a Mexican exchange student, left her Universidad Internacional located in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico and headed for the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas campus. Her friend, who attended UVI but has since returned to his native Mexico, told her about the university and relayed the wonderful experiences he had on the island.

“He loved the food, the language wasn’t a problem because he speaks English very well and he told me it was a nice place,” Moreno said.

At the urging of her friend, Moreno left her hometown and flew almost 4,000 miles to the U.S. Virgin Islands. When her plane landed at the Cyril E. King Airport, the island was enveloped in darkness, except for airport lights and streetlights.

“When I first came, I saw the island; it was a little different than I thought,” Moreno said. “When I saw it, it was so small and I thought that I was in the middle of nowhere, nobody lived here and I had to go back home.”

Moreno managed to settle into her college dorm, but she has had to grapple with several challenges: the language barrier, the culture, the food and the attitude of the locals.

“When I came here, I couldn’t speak or understand one word of English. It was very difficult for me. I thought I would have to drop every class,” Moreno said.

After three semesters of taking English classes, Moreno has improved in speaking English but she now faces the challenge of writing the language.

She is still not fluent in English and that has hampered her participation in class.

“Even if I understand and want to say something, I don’t know how to say it,” Moreno said. “It takes time for me to formulate a thought and by the time I want to say it, it’s time to move on to another subject. I usually stay quiet in the class and if I have a friend in the class, I go to them for help and ask them to explain to me what the professor said in class.”

St. Thomas Campus entrance sign. File photo from UVI’s website
St. Thomas Campus entrance sign.
File photo from UVI’s website

Even outside of the classroom, Moreno has difficulty talking with her peers.

“I want to be in conversations, but people talk fast. By the time I finish my sentence, people are on another topic,” she said.

The manner of English speakers is also baffling to Moreno.

“English and Spanish speakers speak differently,” she said. “We speak with more passion; English speakers are less passionate. When we laugh, we say ‘ha, ha, ha,’ but English speakers say LOL. Or if they think they’re laughing a lot, they write LMAO. In my culture, if you say something, it shows.”

Moreno faces another conundrum – the attitude of local students.

“I have a problem with the people; I don’t understand how they act sometimes. For example, they say yes when they mean no. I don’t understand that. In Mexico, when we say no, we mean no,” she said. “Another thing is that sometimes students speak to me, we have a good conversation, and then for the next few days, they don’t speak to me. I see them in the hallway and when I say hello to them, they look at me strangely. I don’t understand that.”

As for the food, Moreno misses her spicy gastronomical delights.

“The food tastes different and at first, I didn’t enjoy it. I am able to eat it now, but not a lot like other people. Nothing is spicy, nothing is lemon; I feel like something is missing from it,” she said.

Moreno is one of the 120 international students who are enrolled at UVI and who also face challenges on campus. Even students from other neighboring Caribbean islands have expressed some issues that they face. Candace Samuel, a Kittitian, is one such student.

“As international students, we have to wait for a whole year to get approval to work on campus and then we have to wait to be processed by Social Security,” she said. “When I was approached by the Science Department to be a peer instructor for Science 100, I readily agreed and when I began the employment process, it appeared that Mary Myers, program specialist II counseling and placement wasn’t very receptive about having international students work on campus. However, I went through the process and now I’m employed.”

Her sentiments were echoed by another Kittitian student, Andrea Wilson.

“Students have to wait a year before they can get a job on campus and even when they are enrolled for a year, they still can’t source an on-campus job. Also, it’s very seldom that international students get selected for jobs at the Access and Enrollment office or the library; they mostly get jobs as RAs,” she said.

South Dorm is one of several residence halls on the St. Thomas campus. File photo from UVI’s website.
South Dorm is one of several residence halls on the St. Thomas campus.
File photo from UVI’s website.

Another gripe for Samuel is that there are not enough scholarships for international students.

“Some of the scholarships don’t apply to us. Most of them are for permanent residents or U.S. citizens. I think UVI can offer more scholarships for international students,” she said.

Lack of communication is an issue for Lyncia Dore, a student from St. Kitts who is majoring in education.

“You have to go up and down to get information. It’s like a back and forth when you’re trying to find out information. You go to one office that you think should have the information you’re looking for, they send you to another office and that office refers you to the office you’ve already been to. Information is not readily available. I think they need an office to deal with the affairs of international students,” she said.

Unlike some universities on the mainland that have an Office of International Affairs that helps international students to adjust to their new environment and fosters a vibrant international community, UVI has a Coordinator of International Services. Barbara Todman holds that position on the St. Thomas campus.

Todman confirmed that international students are required to wait for one year before they can be hired on campus by the Placement Office. She said, however, that although not all divisions hire international students, there are some departments that do hire them.

“Whenever students come to me for help seeking employment, I send them to offices that do hire them, like the President’s Office, the Office of the Provost, Accounting, Reichhold Center and the Associate Vice President of Administration and Finance,” Todman said. “Some students are here for three or four years and they haven’t found work since they applied. So I tell them to go to speak with those employers, they set up with Ms. Myers in the Placement Office and she puts the paperwork through.”

Mary Myers holds the position of Program Specialist II Counseling and Placement Provost’s Office. Calls to her office were not returned.

International students cannot get paid out of federal funds, but if they are hired by a department on campus, that department must have disposable income to pay them, Todman said.

According to Todman, international students have other employment options, such as Optional Practical Training.

“They can do OPT for 12 months here in the Virgin Islands or on the mainland after they graduate,” she said.

The exact number of international students enrolled at UVI was not available. Todman recalls that in January, she processed about 123 international students on the St. Thomas campus alone.

Two students Vie for Board of Trustee Seat

FELICIA EMMANUEL | ST.CROIX – Two St. Thomas students, each vying for this year’s position as student representative to the University of the Virgin Islands’ Board of Trustees presented their platforms on Monday, April 13, in the Cafetorium.

The position which alternates between the St. Thomas and St.Croix campuses, allows the elected individual to act as the student liaison to the university’s executive board.

Standing on stage before a mixed crowd of faculty and students, candidates Devon Williams and Hakim Potter, both expressed their desire to be “the voice” students needed in the university.

The first candidate, UVI student Devon Williams, based his platform on three pillars – synergy, communication and an active voice.

“The reason I chose synergy is because of the fact that in order for the best decision to be made on behalf of the student body, we must first come together and decide what is the best course of action in terms of the decisions being made by the board,” Williams said.

Williams’ second pillar, communication, was founded on the need for constant communication which would be done using social media, email and other modes of communication. This approach ensured that communication with his St. Croix constituents would not be lost.

From left to right: UVI student Devon Williams, SGA President Sophia Johnson, Student Activities Supervisor, Hedda Finch-Simpson, and UVI student Hakim Potter. Photo Credit: Felicia Emmanuel
From left to right: UVI student Devon Williams, SGA President Sophia Johnson, Student Activities Supervisor, Hedda Finch-Simpson, and UVI student Hakim Potter.
Photo Credit: Felicia Emmanuel

Williams also promised an active voice regarding issues affecting students so that they “become more aware of what is happening and less things strike students as a surprise when they are involved in every process and every step of the changes being made to the school.”

Junior Business Administration student Hakim Potter’s slogan, “I am you,” reminded the student body that he was focused on representing them.

“As students, we generally have no say, or we believe we generally have no say,” Potter said regarding students who felt powerless to administrative decisions.

He believed that it was time for the students to be heard. Careful with his promises, Potter assured students that the process would be “held up until we come to a peaceful compromise.”

“We need things to be done how we want things to be done,” he said. “I could assure you that if I am appointed to this position, all situations and all things being spoken about by the board will be presented to the student body.”

For more information about the Albert A Sheen campus elections, contact the Student Activities Office at 692-4228.

VOICC Tackles Self-Esteem Through Performing Arts


ST.CROIX – “Dare to be true. Dare to be you. Dare to be,”— the University of the Virgin Island’s Voices of Inspiration Community Choir left this message with their audience on Saturday, March 14 when they hosted their first of several community outreach initiatives this semester.

Through the performing arts, the VOICC delivered a lively performance in the Great Hall by combating low self-esteem, bullying and other issues plaguing young people ages 12 through 21.

VOICC Director Josephine Thomas-Lewis felt led to take on the venture because of a combination of inspiration.

“Because I am a teacher, I see kids in that age range being unsatisfied with the skin they are in,” Thomas-Lewis said.

She saw how low self-esteem affected her students’ academic performance and rendered them unwilling to focus.

“We wanted to dare our students to aim higher, stretch further, and to trust they can do more than they realize,” she said.

For a less intimidating setting, the UVI Great Hall resembled a poetry club, complete with a stage, runway, brick backdrop and two standing microphones. Two high, round tables with surrounding chairs stood on each end of the runway.

As the show began, a flurry of voices immediately filled the Great Hall.

These voices came from two large, yet separate groups of chatty choir members who entered the room through one a side door. This fictional class of 1995 walked down the aisles, greeted one another with hugs and engaged in small banter before finally making their way to the stage.

Scene One delivered a message on bullying as lead characters, Franciene and Cameron appeared at their 20th class reunion. Both were severely teased, but Franciene more so because of her weight.

Characters Franciene and Cameron share stories about being bullied in school. Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson
Characters Franciene and Cameron share stories about being bullied in school.
Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson

This led to the choir’s first musical selection and a motivational speech from Jaecena Howell.

Howell recounted her challenges raising $5,000 in three months, but was able to do so through her perseverance. She believed anyone could achieve the seemingly impossible if they took on the challenge.

In Scene 2, Liz Combie stepped on stage to discuss the importance of value.

In addition to her talk, Combie demonstrated how past relationships can affect future ones by calling three young men and women from the audience to participate.

In Scene 3, characters Tania and Crystal recounted their past self-esteem issues. They both made personal comparisons to others they thought “had it all,” but overtime learned to accept themselves.

Franciene re-entered the scene to remind Tania that she didn’t have to “try so hard” to have others accept her.

During the skit, some cast members found themselves in some of the characters. UVI alumni Wyndi Ambrose played Franciene, but related to Crystal. Crystal was a character who felt she was too skinny and needed to be shapely to garner attention.

“In some ways, I felt I identified the most with [Crystal],” Ambrose said.

Like Crystal, Ambrose once thought that having a certain physique would make her feel better about her slim frame, but Ambrose realized that beauty was not solely based on physical appearance.

“Over the years, I’ve come to realize it’s really what you have inside and giving to others. That is what makes you beautiful to other people” Ambrose said. “That’s why I really love singing the song [Try], because I really was moved by it.”

After intermission, the choir donned their “Dare to Be” T-shirts and returned to stage.

VOICC member Bianca Almonte delivered Savannah Brown’s “What Guys Look for in Girls.”

Jaecena Howell recounts her challenge of raising $5,000 in three months.
UVI Student Jaecena Howell encouraged audience members to persevere in the face of obstacles. Photo Credit: Kyle Stevenson

As Almonte recited the dramatic piece, she captured both attendees and performers alike.

Following Almonte’s presentation were VOICC singers Gregory Evans and Jahdel Jules, who utilized the runway in the segment, “Who You Are.”

This portion focused on how many young people continually made their insecurities visible to others.

“What do you see?” Evans rhetorically asked, as each young model slowly walked the stage annex.

After brief dialogue from Evans, the young women confidently returned to the catwalk. This time, each girl wore her smile and a stylish dress. Loud cheers and whistles filled the room as the models and brave young men alike strolled onto the runway.

In this case, Ambrose felt this segment encouraged crowd interaction.

“Before it was like, ‘let’s tell you how to be confident; now let’s see you act it out,” Ambrose said. “It was really nice to see them come up on stage and be themselves and have fun.”

Before closing with their high-spirited number “Get Up,” different VOICC members recited a line from the poem, “Dare to Be.”

Overall, attendees enjoyed the program.

Dare to Be model wears a smile as she walks down the runway. Photo Credit: Media One Productions
Dare to Be model wears a smile as she walks down the runway.
Photo Credit: Media One Productions

For UVI student Gary Papin, the program theme “Dare To Be” challenged individuals not to place limitations on themselves.

The last presentation that really impacted Papin was the speech given by Gregory Evans.

“He said that statistically, at least one male in this room might be going to jail. It was a surprising realization as to how many young men, or men in general are incarcerated. But in spite of that, he also said that if you were living a lifestyle that could lead to that outcome, it’s not too late to make a change, and that is a message that needs to be heard by the men who still have a chance,” Papin concluded.

“You are your own obstacle in this situation,” Papin said. “If you can overcome yourself, then there is no limit to what you can achieve.”

In addition to the overall message, Papin saw it play out in an interpretive dance during intermission.

“It was basically a girl dancing with mirrors around her and she’s basically trying to find out who she is and not be molded by the reflections of society and people and what-not,” said Papin.

Aside from audience members, choir participants found certain elements touching.

For 20-year-old national student exchange student, Shermaine Blake, Almonte’s spoken word performance was empowering.

“Her energy and heart was all in it,” Blake said.

In addition to Almonte’s presentation, Blake also enjoyed Liz Combie’s demonstration.

“Even for me, everything she had to say resonated with me,” Blake said. “How you value yourself is how the world will treat you. “I think that’s the strongest messages kids in middle school and high school really need to hear, internalize, and focus on.”

Lastly, VOICC offered to serve as big brothers and sisters to the children who attended and contact the children if they ever needed assistance with schoolwork.

The VOICC will be hosting their spring concert on Saturday, April 25.

Anyone wishing to receive more information about the event can call or email Josephine Thomas-Lewis at 690-5269 or

VICCC preserves VI Cultural Heritage


ST.CROIX – Many students attending the university, are unaware of the role the Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center has in the Virgin Islands community. However, the VICCC raised cultural awareness of past Virgin Islands indigenous peoples on Saturday, Feb. 14 at the annual Agricultural and Food Fair.

The VICCC, nestled under the University of the Virgin Island’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, is an on-campus museum that hosts a collection of research materials, exhibits and local artwork. Within the center, a collection dedicated to the work of late VI cultural heritage steward, Dr. Gene K. Emanuel is on display.

VICCC and CSAP director Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina shares information with exhibit visitors on February 14 at the Agrucultural and Food Fair. Photo Credit: Felicia Emmanuel
VICCC and CSAP director Dr. Chenzira Davis-Kahina (right) shares information about the indigenous peoples of the Virgin Islands with visitors on February 14 at the Agricultural and Food Fair.
Photo Credit: Felicia Emmanuel

“We are working on state-of-the-art research and we focus on preserving, nurturing and cultivating Virgin Islands and Caribbean culture,” Director of VICCC, Dr. Chenzira Davis-Kahina said. “I specifically say Virgin Islands and Caribbean culture because [the Virgin Islands] are usually grouped with the mainland.”

At the VICCC exhibit, Davis-Kahina drew attention to the indigenous peoples of the Virgin Islands. One display showed the work of Opi’a Taino International.

Aside from research, Kahina hosts many workshops and seminars on cultural studies. Some workshops are held weekly on-campus, while others are held off-campus at various venues. Some sessions are intensive because they combine five to six seminars together.

Davis-Kahina travels to annual cultural symposiums and her most recent venture led her to Costa Rica, where she presented cultural research.

“What she does at the VICCC, from what I know, [is that] she partners with other people like the National Park, and they collaborate for events,” VICCC student worker Karine Cox said.

Cox cited events such as Maroon Commemoration, tours of Salt River and the bioluminescent bays, and excursions to Buck Island, among initiatives that are done by the VICCC.

“She tries to get people around UVI more involved culturally,” Cox said. “Hence why there is a minor as well.”

Janis Valmond, the Caribbean Exploratory Center research coordinator and Committee Outreach and Engagement Core director, views the VICCC as an “invaluable resource” to the community.

“The VICCC — with its focus on culture and the environment and socio-cultural factors — are critical to our health,” she said.

These socio-cultural environments are what Valmond believes are determinants of health and has reached out to Davis-Kahina so Valmond’s students can take a trip to Salt River.

The VICCC, nestled under the University of the Virgin Island’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, is an on-campus museum that hosts a collection of research materials, exhibits and local artwork. Photo Credit: Felicia Emmanuel
The VICCC, nestled under the University of the Virgin Island’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, is an on-campus museum that hosts a collection of research materials, exhibits and local artwork.
Photo Credit: Felicia Emmanuel

“We can do the outreach and find out what is happening in the community, what is happening in the culture in the Virgin Islands and how it impacts our health, so it’s a win-win. We are the nucleus right now,” Valmond said.

Despite its community engagement, VICCC’s contributions are largely unknown. For Cox, she believes that students do not come due to the advertising of culture. They think it is boring.

“People think of it as maybe Africans and slaves so if she does something, people wouldn’t come to it. That’s why it’s maybe not known as well,” she said.

Cox also noted that more outside visitors come in to visit the VICCC than actual UVI students do. Referring to Danish visitors, she noticed that they not only want information about the Virgin Islands but they also want to learn about our culture in the process.

She did mention that there are plans for a cultural campaign, intended to spur interest with UVI students.

There are a few students who realize the importance of the VICCC, such as 20-year-old sophomore Yanick Toure’.

“I believe it’s a significant part of the institution because it helps restore African as well as indigenous culture,” Toure’ said.

He mentioned his Caribbean-Malian heritage and felt a renewed sense of pride.

“It’s just roots,” Toure’ said. “It gives us a sense of consciousness on African spirituality.”

Tavia Lang, a part-time student in Kahina’s public speaking class believes that culture should be handed down.

“No matter how many come to the little island, we can’t forget where we come from,” Lang said.

This sentiment is shared by students who accept their African or indigenous history. According to Davis-Kahina, some students are upset because “they didn’t learn sooner.”

“This wasn’t required in other classes,” Kahina said. “You can’t be taught what [teachers] don’t know.”