Choice — You get to chose who you want to be and what you want your life to look like. When you are a new immigrant, other immigrants that have been here longer have the tendency to tell you what carrier path to choose or what type of education you need to pursue. As well meaning as they can be, it’s important for you to remember that we all have different paths in life and it’s your responsibility to choose yours.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christelle Biiga, an Inspirational Speaker with experience in delivering powerful motivational talks to groups of all sizes and types. From large Conferences to Corporate Meetings, her speaking delivery is engaging, powerful and effective in bringing inspiration to the audience.
Christelle offers an engaging presentation that will keep your audience attention with a fun and energetic style. It is a special talent to be able to blend important and often considered boring topics in a way that is fun, exciting and interesting.
Christelle Biiga is a former corporate executive, TV and Radio Host, and the host of the Podcast “Absolute Alignment with Christelle: When Success Feels Easy” available on all podcast platforms.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Douala, the major economic city in Cameroon in a big family. Watching my uneducated mother make money as a tailor and constantly look for business opportunities led me to believe that it is possible to create a better life for yourself despite your limitations. And my father reinforced that idea by repeating to my seven siblings and me to never shoot for less than the moon. They conditioned me to want more in life and go after my dreams no matter what, which I am grateful for.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
Moving out of Cameroon was out of the question for me for a very long time and it is only when I became an entrepreneur that I started opening myself up to that idea. The things I am passionate about such as inspirational speaking were foreign in my country, so I realized that if I wanted to give it a fair shot, I had to leave. Once the idea started crossing my mind, the only country I could see myself moving in was the United States because it represented the only place in the world where anything was possible.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
My visa was approved in December and since I had never experienced the winter, I decided to search on Google a state where there is no snow and I found California, so I decided to move to Los Angeles, even though I didn’t know anybody here. I almost got deported upon arrival at LAX airport. An immigration officer decided to send me back to Cameroon because he thought I was coming to work as a prostitute. My English was very limited at the time, so I could barely defend myself. After a body search, they sat me at a bench while they were filling out some paperwork and while I was sitting there, completely lost and confused, another immigration officer that was passing by stopped and asked me: “sister, what’s going on?”. I tried to explain the situation the best I could, and he said: “don’t worry, everything is going to be alright.” Those words helped me keep hope during the following nine months when I was going through a stressful immigration process, before a judge decided to grant me the right to stay in the United States.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Marius, a guy that I met while I was going through the immigration process, who had gone through a similar process reminded me that there’s light at the end of the tunnel each time I would want to give up. He would drive for ninety minutes to come visit me and advise me the best he could base on his personal experience. Having a friend during that time was priceless.
So how are things going today?
I am happy to say that things are going well for me. I speak English now (haha), I’ve started my coaching business after leaving my corporate job where I became a manager in less than a year, I have a podcast and I’m an inspirational speaker. Being able to empower people from a stage, virtually or in person, is really fulfilling. Living in Manhattan Beach, five hundred feet away from the ocean, makes me particularly happy because I’ve always dreamed of living by the ocean.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Being on stage and hosting my podcast is for me the best way to empower as many people as possible with my message. Words can shift someone’s mindset and completely change the course of their lives, that’s why I love being a speaker. Sharing my story and my experience as an entrepreneur, a leader, and a human being experiencing life, is my way of bringing hope where it’s needed.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
- Translation services — when I was going to court, the translators that were assigned to me were not really good. Luckily, even though I couldn’t speak English, I could understand it so I was able to call them out when they would not translate what I was saying properly. Not sure the outcome of my case would have been the same if I didn’t understand what was being said. A lot of immigrants use a translator and it’s concerning to know that some of them are misrepresented.
- The way immigrants are treated — Moving to another country doesn’t make someone a criminal.
- Speed up the process — I was fortunate to finish my case in nine months, because some people have been waiting for years to simply meet an immigration officer to discuss their case.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Integration — Expand your network beyond your community of origin to better understand the culture of the country and not constantly feel like a stranger. If you do not speak English, make it a priority to learn it and put yourself in situations where you will have to practice it. Before being able to speak English fluently, I would tell anyone I would meet to only speak English to me, even when they could speak French (which is my first language).
- Vision — Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and do whatever it takes to make it a reality. Starting over is not easy, especially in a different country. At first, I was looking for any job that would allow me to pay my bills and support myself, but I never lost track of what I really wanted to achieve. Once I got a stable job, I started my business on the side because retiring in Corporate America was not part of my vision.
- Courage — Congratulations for having the courage to try something different in a new country! Making courageous decisions will ultimately lead you where you want to go. When I decided to quit my corporate job to start my business, I took the risk to lose it all. I remember how scared I was and I’m glad I didn’t let that fear stop me.
- Networking — Surround yourself with the people that have accomplished what you want to achieve and learn from them. Whenever I have a new goal that my current network sees as impossible, I intentionally look for new connections that can support me in my journey. The social medias have made it really easy to connect with anyone in the world, so use it.
- Choice — You get to chose who you want to be and what you want your life to look like. When you are a new immigrant, other immigrants that have been here longer have the tendency to tell you what carrier path to choose or what type of education you need to pursue. As well meaning as they can be, it’s important for you to remember that we all have different paths in life and it’s your responsibility to choose yours.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Dialogue — After the painful events that occurred in the country in 2020, American people are more open and willing to talk about topics that have divided the country for too long, such as racism, social injustice, women’s rights, etc.
- Opportunity — Witnessing businesses expand and people reinvent themselves during the most challenging year in history, was a great reminder of what’s possible in this country.
- Generosity — The level of generosity that people showed across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic to support those that have been hit the hardest, was extraordinary.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey! I remember lying on my bed in my small apartment in Cameroon and wishing I could be Oprah to inspire people around the world with my message. Then I would remind myself than there’s only one Oprah before falling asleep. I visualize myself almost every day sitting at a table with Oprah and getting advice from her on how to build an empire while lifting others up. She is the mentor I cannot afford. Hahaha
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!