Communication student Esther Musau, ’16, taps her fellow international students and tells their stories and first impressions of America through a video project.
Two things have long been on top of Esther Musau’s bucket list: To study film production and go abroad.
After breaking into an envelope her father handed her, Musau discovered her journey would begin in 2012 at Indiana State, where a friend of her father’s once worked as a professor.
“My dad has always known that I wanted to study abroad somewhere and go into film production,” said Musau, a 21-year-old Indiana State University sophomore and budding filmmaker from Kinshasa, Congo. “With all of my siblings abroad in places from South Africa to Canada, I was open to going anywhere to study and was thrilled when my dad surprised me with an interview at the U.S. Embassy.”
An aspiring filmmaker studying communication with a concentration in electronic media, Musau purchased her first digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera several years ago and turned to YouTube tutorials to learn about video production.
Musau’s short films, many of which are released on YouTube, do not shy away from thought-provoking topics, like her religious beliefs in a film about the fight between good and evil. In a most recent film, “Beautiful Pain,” Musau captures a couple’s process to deal with the loss of a child.
Her camera lens has lent a voice to many people’s thoughts and experiences, including in her latest film, which features perspectives of Indiana State international students, like Sultan Alhermeiri.
Alhermeiri said in the film the U.S. was not as he imagined before he arrived at Indiana State from the United Arab Emirates.
“Before I came here to the United States, I had the stereotype that the United States is going to be like a movie … but actually when I came here, it was not that at all,” he said.
There were moments of questioning whether or not it would be possible to be so far from home, said Youstina Nussar, a freshman civil engineering technology major from Cairo, Egypt, and 2014 Miss Ebony.
“My father made me an independent woman. That’s why he made me here alone. No family or friends. Nothing,” she said. “But he trusted me and had a huge faith in me. He knew I would make it one day and I will survive and I am fine right now.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Musau, who hasn’t returned home since coming to Indiana State.
“Telephone calls to the Congo are expensive, so social media and video chat are two ways I talk to my friends and family,” she said. “Being far from my family is a daily challenge, but this experience is helping me grow as an individual and helping me to know myself better.”
Musau worked four or five hours a day for a year on her video project and wrapped up production this spring. She said the experience will be valuable when she returns to the Congo to work in media after graduating in December 2016.
“It was a more time-consuming process than I realized, but I sought critiques along the way,” she said. “I love looking into human stories, because the topics are something everyone can relate to in some way.”
One of those stories was that of Kirk Moore, a senior legal studies major and criminal justice minor from Ghana.
“The first semester was a struggle, in terms of cultural shock,” he said. “If I was a teacher, I think my lesson would be tolerance and diversity. If you understand what diversity is about, you tend to understand and perceive how to tolerate people, because we all have a way of doing things. We all have different cultural backgrounds. We all have a way we grew up and we all have to learn to agree to disagree.”
Musau credits Tracy Ford, her supervisor in Indiana State’s Office of Communications and Marketing, where she has received her first formal training behind the camera as a student videographer for the last year, for the idea.
“This project was a good opportunity for me to reach out to other international students who need a voice on campus, too,” said Musau, who released the film on Indiana State’s YouTube channel in March. “When you first come to school in a foreign country, you often feel a little lost. The interviews gave international students a chance to talk about their experiences and share it with the world.”
Musau would attend coffee hours hosted by the Center for Global Engagement to discuss the interviews. Musau featured students she’s befriended at Indiana State and had little trouble getting students to open up about their stories.
“I wasn’t sure if people would be willing to participate but, to my surprise, everyone I asked was excited to tell their story,” she said. “I’m glad these students are getting to reach out to Americans and have their words heard because people have different perceptions of what America is like. It’s good to see your country through someone else’s eyes. Oftentimes, it helps you learn something you didn’t know, see or think about.”