There is saying associated with an individual who has many talents and must balance multiple responsibilities. Whether it is at work or at home, this person is referred to as someone “who wears many hats.” Oftentimes, these hats become so jumbled it can be difficult to find the original person underneath it all. Virginia Demezier Bien Aime is one of these people.
When one “wears many hats”, these hats become so jumbled it can be difficult to find the original person underneath it all.
Growing up in Gonaives, Haiti, Demezier understood the importance and seriousness of doing well in school from an early age. Not only did she receive encouragement from her parents, but also from her school’s administration, saying, “Once I entered middle school, I had a good relationship with the principal. She believed in me, which heightened the pressure to do well,” she said.
Interested in science and math, she set her sights on becoming one of two things, a pediatrician or a teacher. Moving to the capitol of Port-au-Prince in 2003, she lived with her uncle while pursuing her technical diploma in chemistry at a nearby university. Graduating in 2005, she decided to move back to her hometown, saying, “The city was far too big, and I wanted to be near my family.” After moving back to Gonaives, she enrolled at Ecole de Droits et des Sciences Econimiques to pursue a degree in economics in 2006.
It was during this time that Demezier married her husband, who she met as a teenager. “We met in ninth grade. We were volunteers for a community nonprofit and taught adults to read and write in Creole,” she said. During the following nine months, life brought many changes with the birth of their first son in 2006 and her husband’s decision to move to the United States. Unable to go with him, she stayed behind to continue working and going to school.
While going to school, she spent one year working as a chemistry lab teacher at her former high school. “It was a great personal experience. To be able to go back to my high school and teach alongside my former teachers, it was great,” she said. However, after one year, she left her teaching position and went to work for United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). From 2007 to 2013, she worked in various positions, which included everything from front desk to sensitization and mobilization officer.
During their time apart, Demezier’s husband traveled back and forth from the U.S. to Haiti; however, in February 2013, she made the decision to join her husband in Naples, Florida. Scared to be in a new country and sad to leave her family behind in Haiti, Demezier was now raising three children. “My children would come home from school with homework questions. I wasn’t able to help them because of my little English,” she explained.
Although learning how to read and write in English, she lacked the ability to effectively speak the language, saying, “I felt that because I was not able to speak English well, I was unable to perform my parental duties.”
Prior to moving to the U.S., Demezier recalled her family, friends and co-workers telling her to not look for a job, but instead, go to school. “This advice, along with my desire to help my children, pushed me to learn,” she said.
For three months, she attended an English language program at a local high school but found it focused on the reading and writing more than the verbal, so she stopped attending. In 2014, she and her husband welcomed their fourth child, and she decided it was time to find a job. Working at a local gas station from 10:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m., she became lost in the various roles she played of wife, mother, housekeeper and employee.
After talking with a friend who attended Hodges University’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program, she decided an ESL program was what she needed. Performing a Google search for “English as a Second Language,” she found Hodges and wrote down the phone number. “It was 2015 when I met with the admissions coordinator. I brought everything in with me, all my paperwork,” she laughed.
“I began to feel like me again.”
Enrolling for summer 2015, she entered the ESL program. For 15 weeks, she steadily made her way through Level II before moving onto Level III in fall 2015. For four hours, Monday through Friday, Demezier slowly began to push through the mass of roles she played and admits, “I began to feel like me again.”
During her break between terms, Demezier was presented with the opportunity to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), and by September 2015, she received her license and began working with local agencies for home health placement.
After earning her ESL certificate, she knew it could not be the end. Her desire to earn a degree was too strong; however, she was unsure of her abilities to keep up with the typical degree-seeking coursework. Learning about Hodges’ Intensive English Program Bridge (IEP), she enrolled for winter 2016 and met Leisha Cali, Hodges’ ESL director.
“When I first met Virginia in January 2016, I noticed her lovely smile. After I got to know her as a student and individual, I understood that her smile was not only genuine but also a testament to an enthusiastic approach to the challenges of a big life with big dreams,” said Cali.
Working closely with Demezier, Cali witnessed a woman who would not be deterred by any challenge or obstacle standing in her way. “Virginia is the quintessential Hodges student, initiating and seeking her educational and personal development with admirable drive, passion and energy. She is the student who understands the value of learning and its basis in personal success, inspiring both professors and classmates,” Cali added.
Crediting Cali as not only an adviser but also a mentor, Demezier remarked, “Ms. Leisha is amazing. Throughout my program, she always pushed me to do my best. When I got stressed or felt like I couldn’t do it all, she took the time and truly cared about what was going on in my life.”
In summer 2016, after spending one year strengthening her English speaking skills and preparing for college courses, she enrolled in the biomedical sciences associate program. Admitting she continues to have some difficulty with the fast-paced courses, as well as the pronunciation of terms, she remains dedicated to earning her degree. With the ultimate goal of becoming a nurse, she plans to graduate in December 2017 and pursue a bachelor’s in nursing.
“I feel like I got my identity back here at Hodges,” she said. “I knew no matter what I wanted to build for myself, it had to be done with school, and I had to be able to speak English because that is what opens doors.”