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UI student adapts to college life in Iowa after devastation in Haiti

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | MARCH 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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Olivier Dolce remembers falling asleep to gangs fighting outside his home in Haiti.

His house was completely closed off from the world with a barbed wire fence surrounding it, but he still had the fear that someone could break in.

"I went into an imaginary world where I believed that no one could get in and I could feel safe," he said.

Now as a freshman attending the University of Iowa, Dolce is trying to adapt to college life in Iowa.

"College life is not what I was expecting, and it caught me off guard," he said. "I thought here it would be corn fields and a total boring place, but I love it, and it's a city that I'm glad I'm going to college in."

One thing Dolce does miss about his Haitian culture is not having anyone to talk Creole with – one of the four languages he can speak.

While the 19-year-old said it's hard being that far from his family, he still gets the chance to talk to his mother almost every day.

"When you are raised in Haiti, you know that you're aren't going to go to a university there," Dolce said. "So you are mentally prepared that one day you are going to move away from your family."

Even though there is a university in Haiti, Dolce said that Haitians usually go to college in the United States because they receive a better education.

After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Dolce went to live with his aunt in Miami to finish up high school. He said the experience was completely different from what he knew in Haiti.

"I had to adapt to a new school system and the change of not living with my mom and grandma," Dolce said.

Once he graduated from high school, Dolce applied to schools in the Midwest like his older cousins because he wanted to be like them.

He is the only one from his family who has attended the UI, and according to the UI Registrar Office's fall 2011 statistics, there were no other incoming students who came here from Haiti.

Dolce is studying business and French at the UI.

While doing some research on the major, it seemed as though business had the most opportunities for jobs in the future and he preferred math, he said.

One big difference between Haitian culture and Iowan culture is the food.

Every night for dinner in Haiti, Dolce would eat rice with some type of meat; pizza would only be a food they would eat on special occasion because of its expense.

Now, Dolce eats pizza all the time, and he tries to stay away from the rice in the Hillcrest cafeteria.

The cold weather is also something the UI freshman is trying to adapt to.

In Haiti, the coldest it will ever be is 60 degrees, but normally, "it's always hot and amazing," he said.

He quickly learned that while in Iowa wearing just a sweatshirt walking from the Mayflower to Hillcrest wasn't a good idea.

"Now, I'm getting used to [the cold], and I know when to wear two sweatshirts or a coat," Dolce said with his Northface jacket in tow.

UI sophomore Dylan Vaughan, Dolce's roommate, wants to help him experience new things while at the university.

"I keep telling him that when it snows, we are going to have a snowball fight, because he has never been in one," Vaughan said. "But we have yet to get around to that."

One of Dolce's best friends from Haiti is attending school in Washington, and he said he hasn't seen him since the earthquake.

With his friends so far away, Dolce believed he had to make a lot of friends while at Iowa, and now he feels like everyone knows him.

UI freshman Taylor McPherson met Dolce last semester when playing soccer. The two of them were the only ones who lived on the West Campus, so when they walked back, McPherson found out he was from Haiti.

"There is nobody that I know that is as nice as he is to others," McPherson said. "I admire his honesty and integrity."


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