The hot, humid weather swirls through Les Cayes, Haiti. In the sweltering heat stands an orphanage, housing children of every age. Inside, a 12-year-old boy arranges two trash cans 6 feet apart, and sets down four oranges on the floor. One by one, the boy kicks each orange between the cans from different angles, practicing penalty kicks. Each day, his aim becomes mores accurate and his goals more consistent.
Eleven years later, this boy would become a key player in Clark College’s men’s soccer team.
Woodlin Placide, a Clark athlete playing right wing for the men’s soccer team, is a Haitian international student studying for a business major. Placide´s love for the sport was sparked at an early age when he watched soccer greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo play on TV. This inspired him to teach himself to play soccer from the age of six.
Despite his strong desire to learn, Placide faced many setbacks in his journey. Placide’s father passed away when he was six years old, leaving his mother to care for him and his five siblings.
“It was hard for her to raise six children, and to pay for school, clothes and food everyday,” Placide said. To ease the stress on his mother and family, Placide took matters into his own hands. “I decided to find help… and then six years later I left my mom [and] went to the orphanage at 12 years old.”
Placide spent the next 10 years living at the orphanage and working to make a better life for himself. Although everyone had clothes and a place to stay, kids would sometimes go as much as a day without food. To take his mind away from these struggles, he practiced soccer.
However, Placide was faced with another challenge; he didn’t have a soccer ball.
He worked around the issue by finding something similar to the shape of a soccer ball – oranges. “The whole day I would have oranges in my hand,” Placide said with a smile. “I would try to kick them around, and that’s why I became better and better every day.”
Placide was able to come to the United States with the help of his host family. After visiting Placide’s orphanage and hearing that he had an interest in studying business, the family agreed to help him make the transition.
Upon arriving in Washington, Placide had two options for college: Warner Pacific College in Portland, or Clark. Ultimately, Clark won Placide’s commitment. “I went to Port-au-Prince… to take the [Test of English as a Foreign Language],” Placide said. The TOEFL test is designed to measure non-native´s English language abilities before they enroll in English-speaking universities. “I failed the test, and then Clark decided to accept me so I [could] take English classes,” Placide said.
Placide’s positive attitude and hard work did not go unnoticed by him teammates either. Eighteen-year-old Max Hauser, who plays center back and midfield for the team, had nothing but good things to say about Placide.
“He’s an awesome guy,” Hauser said, “I love him to death!” Hauser explained that Placide is a positive individual with a fantastic demeanor. “[He] always, always helps the team, and he’s a great soccer player,” Hauser said. “He’s not always the most talkative guy, but then whenever you ask him questions he always gives his little sweet response. He’s just a nice guy all around.”
Placide is fortunate to be succeeding where many other international students struggle.
According to Clark’s Director of International Programs Jane Walster, students from other countries face many adversities before they ever step foot on U.S. soil. These challenges include receiving a student visa, money constraints and language barriers, yet one of the biggest is the increased tuition.
“[One] challenge is that all international students pay about three times the tuition that domestic students pay,” Walster said. Much of this is because domestic students make up the difference in paying taxes, whereas international students do not, according to Walster. Further complicating the financial burden, international students do not have access to state or financial aid like local students do.
For Placide, his initial challenge was the language. “I spent, like, two weeks without saying anything to my host parents,” Placide said. “In Haiti, you learn English very slowly… when I came here, I saw people speaking fast, and it took time for me to understand.”
Despite failing the TOEFL test and struggling to learn English, Placide was able to move forward by taking English classes and making friends with English-speakers. Placide’s host family helped him overcome the financial burden by paying his full tuition.
Over Christmas vacation, Placide plans to visit his family in Haiti for three weeks, but in the future, he hopes to return to Haiti permanently.
“I would like to go back to work at the orphanage to help with the management,” Placide said softly. Placide did not rule out the option of working in the United States and regularly visiting his home country, so long as he could find a job here that supported him.
Placide hopes to improve his community once he returns home, including building a park for kids to play and relax in.
In the meantime, Placide works towards his ultimate goal of playing in Major League Soccer by always keeping his eye out for a nearby field to take his soccer ball into and practice.