International Student Dreams of Taking Culinary Talents Home to Haiti

  • Tags: Student Profile
Published 11/18/2022
ECC student Wilna Francois

ECC student Wilna Francois


Many cultures are recognized and defined by their unique food and pastries. Gatherings around a spread of delicacies bring together families, friends, and even strangers. This sense of community around food is what inspired Elgin Community College culinary arts student Wilna Francois’ love for cooking. “When you make a good meal, you make people happy,” said Francois.
Francois is also a first-generation college student, having grown up in an orphanage in Haiti, where her first introduction to cooking was from one of the directors who shared their passion with her, allowing her to pick up on different tips and tricks from a young age. “I always liked to cook, and I like food,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to become a chef, and being here has introduced me to new food and cultures. In the program, we don’t only do American food; [the program] never focuses on just one cuisine or place.”
Francios began to explore options to pursue her culinary dreams due to the increase in violence in Haiti and limited opportunities. In 2008, through the orphanage, a family from Elgin started sponsoring her. When the family learned of her desire to go to culinary school, they encouraged her to come live with them and attend ECC. For the past three years, Francois has lived with them. She began in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to improve her English before completing her prerequisites and enrolling in the culinary arts program.
On track to graduate in 2024, her future plans remain a bit up in the air. “My goal is to go back home and work, eventually opening up my own place,” Francois said. “I want to own a restaurant [in Haiti] because that would open up jobs for other people, helping them, too,” While concerns about local conditions may delay her return, she hopes to remain here and begin working in the culinary field to continue practicing her craft.
She is steadfast and optimistic in her desire to return to Haiti. “When things get better, I will go back,” she said.