SCA 2007, 2013
Graduate, Seattle University | Seattle, WA
At age 15, Grace moved with her dad from her homeland of Cameroon to Seattle. A few months later, she was on an SCA crew in the North Cascades, and since then has returned for another field hitch and an 18-month stint as an oﬃce assistant. Grace misses her two sisters and many other relatives still living in Africa, and says she enjoyed the family atmosphere of the SCA Seattle oﬃce with its staff birthday parties and monthly “Fun Days.” We spoke to her recently as she was preparing to return to Cameroon for the first time since arriving in the US eight years ago.
Coming to America must have posed some challenges…
Yes! I’d learned some English in Cameroon but not enough to have a full-on conversation. I studied English as a Second Language in high school and picked it up fast. I think it’s easier to learn a new language when you’re younger. But I left most of family back in Cameroon, and this was a completely new country with cold weather and a different culture. All at an age when I was figuring out who I was.
And who are you?
I’m Grace. I’m still pretty tied to my Cameroonian culture. When I moved here, learning the American way of life, I found sometimes it’s easy to forget where you come from but I was lucky in that I’ve been able to accept both cultures. In Cameroon, we have strong family ties. Multiple generations routinely live under the same roof and it’s okay to solicit help from your elders. But I’ve also embraced the American culture’s ability to be independent and responsible for your own life and decisions. I like being part of both worlds.
What led to your decision to join an SCA crew?
My trip in the North Cascades – I’d only been here for nine months or so but that was one of the best experiences of my life. I got to interact with a group of high schoolers, like I was. I’d never been camping before, I never knew there were such big mountains. Hiking, canoeing: I’d never done any of that. I discovered a lot of things on that trip.
Any personal discoveries?..
I wasn’t really familiar with national parks, or the idea that parts of our planet were reserved where people couldn’t build houses. Being in the wilderness, my cousins back home would think I was crazy, leaving the city and all that comfort to eat camp food. But it gave me more confidence in myself. That trip also made me more aware of environmental issues and why it’s important to protect parks, how our actions today will affect future generations. I intend to bring this knowledge back to Cameroon.
You sound concerned…
I am concerned. The air there isn’t clean. We don’t have an EPA. People dump trash everywhere. Vehicles don’t have to pass emissions tests. A lot of people have respiratory issues. They don’t connect the dots but from being here, I can see why some of those things are happening.
You’re about to return to Cameroon for a month. What comes next?
I was the first in my family to graduate from college and I’ll go back to get my Master’s at some point but I plan to take a couple of years off. Environmental related work is something I want to do in the long term. I’ve worked for three summers on the staff at North Cascades National Park, which would not have happened if not for SCA. In the future, if I move back to Cameroon permanently, I want to build a house with solar energy and recycling. Maybe even open a recycling plant.