Mauritius student experiences educational, cultural adventure at Culver-Stockton

Culver Stockton College’s Jesse Soondrum plays the grand piano in the visiting room of Johnson Hall recently. A native of Mauritius, an island national southeast of Africa, Soondrum graduated from C-SC on Saturday. (H-W Photo/Micheal Kipley)
Posted: May. 18, 2013 7:13 pm Updated: Jun. 2, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CANTON, Mo. -- Jesse Soondrum came from one of the world's luxury tourism destinations to attend Culver-Stockton College in Canton.

Four years later, Soondrum, 23, is leaving C-SC with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a stronger appreciation for American culture and history. He was a member of the 2013 graduating class honored at Saturday's commencement exercises.

He is a native of Mauritius, an island nation about 1,200 miles east of Africa in the Pacific Ocean. Mauritius is known for its balmy tropical climate, beautiful beaches, warm ocean water and multicultural population. Soondrum grew up in an area just south of the nation's 150,000-population capital city, Port Louis.

How did he end up at Culver-Stockton?

Thank the Internet.

Soondrum had a desire to attend college in the United States, so he and his family started looking online for possibilities.

"We decided it would be easier for me to adapt to a smaller college," he said. "My father was the one who found it."

After reading about Culver-Stockton and conversing by email with several C-SC students, Soondrum submitted an application.

"They happened to be the one that gave me a scholarship," he said.

Soondrum said he became sold on the college when he learned he could get a degree in psychology -- a career field that appealed to him since high school. Now, with a bachelor's degree in hand, he will enter the master's degree program at Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Mo., and is considering a career in counseling.

Soondrum believed he could learn the basics of psychology at any accredited college, but Culver-Stockton would afford him good opportunities to meet other people, get involved in campus activities, and adjust more quickly to the cultural differences between Mauritius and the United States.

C-SC proved to be a perfect match for him.

"It was outstanding," he said. "It's not about the destination. It's about the things you learn along the way and the experience you get and how you change as an individual, and Culver helped me a lot with that."

One of the biggest hurdles Soondrum had to overcome involved language differences.

While English is the "official language" of Mauritius, many Mauritians are also fluent in French because the nation at one time was a French colony. But the country's "native language" -- spoken by most residents, including Soondrum -- is Mauritian creole, which is derived from French with influences from other dialects.

Soondrum said it took him time to get accustomed to understanding his professors and conversing with others during his first year at C-SC, but communication eventually came easier, and he managed to flourish in his classes.

Soondrum also had to adjust to cultural differences.

"It was like starting over -- trying new foods and trying new things to find out, ‘This is what I like,' " he said.

Soondrum also learned to deal with the fluctuating Midwestern weather. After coming from tropical Mauritius, where the temperature varies from 65 to 85 degrees, Soondrum was quickly introduced to Missouri's changing seasons and got his first taste of winter.

"I found out that the coats I brought from my country were not really coats," he said. "I had to go shopping. Some people gave me some jackets, too."

Soondrum was at Culver-Stockton during the fierce winter storm of February 2011, when 22 inches of snow fell on portions of the Quincy area.

"Oh, man. That was terrible," he recalled.

One thing that required no adjustment for Soondrum was his love for music. He's been playing piano since he was 3 and played often on the C-SC campus. He also plays with a local band, the Joint Heirs, and gives solo performances for hire at banquets, receptions and other events.

"This is my passion. This is what I do," he said.

Soondrum hasn't been back to Mauritius since he started attending C-SC. His parents and a younger sister and brother all moved to Hannibal two years after he started college. His sister now attends college in Iowa, and his brother goes to Hannibal High School. His father is vice president of Light Ministries International, which is based in Mauritius.

"We do missionary work around the world," Soondrum said. "We go and help people and preach to them."

The Soondrum family is now living in the boyhood hometown of Mark Twain, who wrote about stopping in Mauritius in his 1897 travelogue, "Following the Equator." In that nonfiction work, Twain said Mauritius citizens liked to talk about their country.

He wrote: "You get all sorts of information. From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius. Another one tells you that this is an exaggeration."

Soondrum said Mark Twain's writings are well-known in Mauritius, but he doesn't quite understand the allure of the Mississippi River that Twain wrote so much about. The river flows past both Hannibal and Canton, but as a body of water, it doesn't impress him nearly as much as the Indian Ocean.

"It's nice to look at, but I would never swim in the river," he said. "I just don't trust what's in there."