The flags of each country individually processed up the hill as the corresponding national anthem rang out from the sound system. The pride on each of the flag bearer’s faces was evident. The strong wind caused the flags to flutter as they were silhouetted against the cloudless blue October sky. The gathered crowd looked on with respect and pride.
This recent spectacle was not the Parade of Nations from the Olympics, but it was no less inspiring. This procession was on the campus of Davis & Elkins College as our international students participated in the annual tradition of raising their country’s flag. A total of 36 flags were processed by D&E’s 94 international students representing six continents. As each flag passed by, there could not have been a more grateful nor prouder college president. Each of these young men and women brings tremendous gifts and graces to this campus and this community. The recent flag ceremony was an opportunity to honor them, their countries and their cultures.
I recently sat down with one of our international students to gain perspective about her journey. Gracjana “Grace” Rozanska is a sophomore business management major from Świnoujście, Poland. Her hometown is in the very northwest corner of Poland on the Baltic Sea. Grace says she can literally walk to Germany. In the fall of 2021, at the age of 19, she boarded an international flight to come to the United States for the first time. She came to West Virginia and D&E to receive an excellent education, play volleyball which has been a passion for many years, and experience America.
Upon her arrival at D&E, the initial impression was surprise at the small size of the College and the ruralness of the town. Her English proficiency was a challenge. Yet, she remembers she was “… so happy to be in America.” She immediately noticed how nice the people here were to her, whether on campus or in the town. Within a week she recalls beginning to feel “at home” and making friends with teammates and classmates. While some Division 1 colleges had expressed interest in Grace for her volleyball talent, her language issues stood in her way. D&E Volleyball Coach Jordan Willis assured Grace that the college would provide all the support she needed to make the transition. According to Grace, that promise was fulfilled both by Coach Willis and her professors who assisted her to overcome the language barrier and experience academic success. As for volleyball, her athletic 6’2” stature made her intimidating on the court where she started for the Senators.
Now in her third semester at D&E, Grace reports that she “loves it here” and is happy she chose the school. She has made good friends, particularly one from California and one from Spain. Following graduation, her hope is to remain in the United States and “… pursue the American dream.”
She admits to missing her family, her dog, familiar food and the sunset over the Baltic Sea. There were some pangs of nostalgia as she proudly carried the Polish flag up the hill at D&E. Grace is grateful that her life’s journey includes both Świnoujście and Elkins … two towns that have prepared her for a life full of possibilities and meaning.
The journey continues….
Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College