Farm to SUNY internship, Go Green help sustain Peterly Jean Baptiste

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Peterly Jean Baptiste, a freshman dual major in language and international trade and French. Already working with the Sustainability Office under a grant with the American Farmland Trust and co-president of a campus environmental club, Jean Baptiste aims to return someday to his Haitian homeland to see what he can accomplish.

Q. Can you tell us the heritage of your last name, Jean Baptiste?
A. I’m originally from Haiti. I lived in Port-au-Prince, the capital. I moved to Long Island just about five years ago.

Q. Were you still in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake?
A. I was fortunate enough to have moved to the United States before the earthquake. I am very grateful for that, and grateful that my family members made it out safely, without injury. My prayers go out to everyone who is still suffering from the consequences of that.

Q. Why did you choose to attend SUNY Oswego?
A. I would love to say that I visited (before enrolling) and came back because I fell in love with the campus. But that wasn’t the case. When I came up here on moving day, I really liked the atmosphere. It was a beautiful summer day, the lake was gorgeous and the campus was very green. I didn’t regret my decision at all ... until winter came. (Laughs.) I really wanted someplace affordable without compromising quality. I heard about the business program; it’s got a good reputation. Oswego was the best option when I was weighing all of the other schools. I feel like I am getting a worthwhile education here, and I wouldn’t go anywhere else. 

Q. Why did you choose to major in language and international trade?
A. I knew I wanted to be in a business field, but I did not want a traditional desk job. I wanted something that incorporated travel and work where you interact with other people. It’s a good major that incorporates business, language and economics—it’s like three majors in one.

Q. You already speak French; why choose it as a second major?
A. Creole is the native language of Haiti, and French is the official language in institutions, schools. Ever since I got to the United States, I’ve been trying to capitalize on that. In high school, the first thing I did was take AP French. I didn’t want to lose that part of my culture.

Q.  You speak excellent English for someone who’s lived here only five years.
A. Thank you. I don’t like being left out. When I first got here, I knew I’d have to deal with a different culture, a different way of living and a different language. I had to learn English, but I wanted to learn it very fast because if I couldn’t understand my friends, I would be missing out. I didn’t want to be that person. Learning French at a very young age, in my country, undoubtedly helped with my language adaptability. I attribute learning English as fast as I did to that.

Q. What do you think of your SUNY Oswego professors?
A. I’ve enjoyed every one of them. They’re really available. The ones that I’ve encountered so far, I feel that they care about your success and they do their best to help you out if you’re struggling with anything. I have yet to encounter anyone who wasn’t supportive and helpful.

Q. What else do you like about SUNY Oswego?
A. It’s a very diverse student body, and I like that. Diverse also in terms of interests. I enjoy meeting new people and making friends. I really enjoy the extracurricular activities, the organizations, the clubs. I’m very involved with the ALANA organizations, which are the ASO, the Caribbean Student Association and others. I’m also involved with the Go Green Team—I’m the co-president this semester. I went to a meeting with the chancellor of SUNY recently, it was a bit of a conference. SUNY Oswego students brought up different programs we have here—programs like CSTEP and EOP that give minority students a bit of a push to their destination.

Q. What do you do with the internship for the American Farmland Trust grant?
A. To let students know exactly what the Farm to SUNY program is, which is encouraging local purchasing of produce. The economic and environmental benefits of that are huge. Since it’s local, it’s a lot fresher. I’m the bridge between this office and the Farm to SUNY program. It involves tabling, putting out signage, letting people know about Food of the Month. This month it’s maple syrup. Last month, it was potatoes. I’m also the SA coordinator for sustainability.

Q. Are you taking part in Quest on April 15?
A. Yes. It’s for my business French class with Miss Lenuta Giukin. She is a wonderful lady. We have a presentation on American companies in Moldova. It’s going to be my first Quest, and I’m a little shy ... well, not shy, I’m just not the best public speaker.

Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
A. I like hanging out with friends. I do a bit of photography. I’m thinking of minoring in that. I’m big into film, as well. I like watching different genres. TV, music—just about everything you think a teen does in his spare time, I do.

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about your family?
A. My Dad lives in Uniondale. He is a registered nurse in a hospital. I also have two sisters and one brother on Long Island. One of my sisters is actually very old—she’s 25. (Laughs.) My other sister is 14, and my brother is in high school doing the same thing I was doing a year ago, looking at colleges.

Q. Have you been back to Haiti? Do you think you’ll return there to work?
A. It’s been five years since I’ve seen my mother, so I’m planning to go back this summer. It’s mostly my Dad’s family that’s in the U.S. I do see myself going back and working there, very definitely. I did a research paper for my English class last semester, and found out that most people who emigrate to the U.S. don’t go back to their native countries, whether they’re from Haiti or different parts of the world. I do want to go back. I want to make a difference.