Gabon/Oregon Connection

Three UO students from Gabon are trying to shrug off Oregon’s unpredictable weather, but they are embracing the opportunity to study abroad. The three students, Gleen Landangoye, Sephora Aplogan and Iris Mouleka, had begun their studies at east coast schools when they got the call to come to the University of Oregon — with a full scholarship. All three jumped at the chance.

While learning to carry umbrellas with them wherever they go and adjusting to dorm life, Gleen, Sephora and Iris feel welcomed by the west coast’s friendly people and feel grateful to have the opportunity to study at the UO. While they haven’t been off campus that much, the three went to Portland for Thanksgiving, to the home of Emily Pelissier who is studying in Gabon this year. Read Emily’s blog here.

They live at the Living Learning Center, where they are immersed in student life and surrounded by people they’ve come to see as family. Iris and Sephora share a room, which helps them feel connected to each other through shared culture, shared language (French) and perhaps more importantly, understanding of time zones. “When your family calls you in the middle of the night, you have to take the call and talk,” says Sephora. Fortunately, Iris understands.

Meet Gleen, Sephora and Iris.

Iris Mouleka

Iris attended both high school and community college in Maryland before attending the UO. She wants to major in Environmental Studies, with perhaps a minor in biology. “Maryland was fast-paced but Oregon is much quieter and better for studying because there aren’t as many distractions,” she says. “Plus, people here are much friendlier than on the east coast. They do everything they can to welcome you.”

Iris wants to be part of a change in the world, to help solve the problems of global warming and depleting resources. “Everybody in Gabon is aware of the oil running out, but not necessarily doing anything about it,” she says. The president, Ali Bongo, “is trying to raise awareness and teach young people to be part of the change in Gabon.”

Iris intends to return to Gabon to work after finishing her studies. “I believe being home is the best place. I don’t mind studying abroad but I do want to go home.” She hopes to get at least one master’s degree and a PhD. “The President is offering these scholarships to help young people learn.”

“Gabon has a beautiful, natural environment, but the people don’t yet recycle,” says Iris. “It has forests, animals, and lots of riches that people could use for economic development.” Iris wants to help maintain that environment while helping people to prosper.

While in Oregon, Iris hopes to meet someone who will serve as her mentor for her studies and someone who will introduce her to a local church. “If anybody wants to help me improve my spiritual life, I’d be happy to meet that person,” she says.

Sephora Aplogan

Sephora has been in the U.S. for four years, previously studying in Maryland. She attended high school in France but realized she wanted to attend college in the United States because she wants to have a career in pharmacology and the opportunities for study and work are more varied here.

She hopes to work in the United States and get some experience before returning to Gabon where she wants to put her experience and education to use. Sephora is a biology major and hopes to continue her studies to become a Doctor of Pharmacy.

Until now, Sephora says, Gabon hasn’t had many opportunities for scientists or research, but is now investing in more research facilities.

“We are just 1.5 million people with all of these resources — we are very rich, but we haven’t used these resources well to help the population,” she says, adding, “We have just been counting on oil, but we also have diamonds, uranium and agricultural resources.” Sephora wants to see Gabon keep its forest intact, for clean air and a healthier environment, knowing that the country can boost tourism with safaris, while also improving infrastructure and building more hospitals. She believes that inequality can be evened out. “Now it’s just rich and poor — there is no middle class.”

Sephora enjoys studying in Oregon and feels welcome on campus. “People are so friendly.” She attended a Ducks football game and was amazed at how enthusiastic the students are about sports. “I thought, ‘Wow, people here really go crazy!’”

Gleen Landangoye

Gleen was soaking up the sun, studying business in Florida, when he got the call to come to UO on a full scholarship. He’d chosen Florida for its tropical climate and because he had a good friend there to welcome him and smooth his way. But the offer to attend the UO was a good one and when he Googled the school, he discovered just how perfectly the UO course offerings fit into his career plans.

Gleen is interested in studying green business. He and his father thought studying in the United States made sense because English is “the language of business,” he says.

While Gleen is still complaining about the Oregon weather — “I have to wear a sweater all the time and carry an umbrella in my bag,” he says, he smiles and adds that he hopes to get used to it.

Gleen’s interest in green business will be put to good use when he returns to Gabon after completing his studies, which will include both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.

“We have 80 percent forest in Gabon but we don’t know how to manage it,” he says. The old government exploited it, he says, but believes there is a way to both protect the environment and put it to good economic use. He looks forward to his business courses helping him with that plan.

And, while Gleen left behind a good friend in Florida, he says the dorm life here has been very accommodating. “We are surrounded by friendly people, they have become our family.”