Before I came to the United States from Haiti, I knew I wanted to build homes, build up people and build healthy communities. When the 2010 earthquake destroyed my family home and the homes of many others, the houses that replaced them were all blocky and uniform. The aesthetics and structure of a home are very important, especially in a third-world country, and I knew that I could do better for myself and for Haitian people.

This is when I started the long journey to becoming an international student and found a home in Kern County, where I currently study architectural drafting at Bakersfield College. I spent two weeks in a building where electricity and internet were constantly breaking down just to take the required assessment test to be eligible to apply for the F1 visa. A few days before my appointment at the embassy to apply, my appendix burst, and I had to make the decision to follow through and hopefully heal up before my appointment so that I didn’t lose my opportunity. I received a lot of support from the Barnes family, missionaries from Tehachapi who used to live in Haiti and operate the House of Moses in my country to help Haitian kids like me complete a university education.

At BC, I am blessed to have worked for several different departments, including the counseling office, Student Hub, Bridge to BC and the International Student Affairs office. International students are only allowed to work for the universities that they attend, and they need express permission from the U.S. government to do so. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work so that I can help pay for school and supplies.

International students are important because the knowledge and perspective we bring will shape the future of America. This country is a place where people from around the world come together to build new things, and international students bring a motivated, entrepreneurial spirit that strengthens the American economy. Nearly 25 percent of all startup companies worth more than $1 billion were founded by someone who came to the U.S. as an international student, according to Forbes, and 55 percent of the country’s billion-dollar startups had at least one immigrant founder. Companies such as SpaceX, OfferUp and Eventbrite were all founded by international students.

As much as I want to build homes, I also want to build lives. In my limited spare time, I’m part of a company called OneClick Productions that aims to elevate the talents of other young people in Haiti through the visual arts. I also participate in a Haitian nonprofit called Hope and Happiness Community Empowerment. But at the end of the day, my education is my top priority. All the years of hard work that I’ve spent to get here can’t be for nothing, and if I return to Haiti without finishing my education, I’ll be starting back at ground zero.

It’s hard to move forward and progress when you don’t have stability, and international students now have the opportunity to build that stability with ICE and Homeland Security overturning their policy on in-person instruction. International students follow all the necessary guidelines, live within the restrictions of the F1 visa, and are model citizens. Moving forward, I hope we can continue to come together and work out our differences to stay safe while bringing prosperity to our communities.

Vladimir Romilus is a Haitian international student studying architecture and architectural drafting at Bakersfield College. He was previously a student at Cerro Coso College.