Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cameroonian Lost His Fortune in U.S., but Values Freedom

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cameroonian Lost His Fortune in U.S., but Values Freedom

Article excerpt

In some ways, America was the last place Francois Kaolo Amougou expected to end up. Before arriving in the U.S., the Cameroonian had traveled as far as Sudan, Swaziland and France. Virtually nowhere did he need to know English to get by.

But Francois had been preparing for the unexpected all his life.

Born in France to a Cameroonian diplomat, he was just 9 when his father's retirement brought the family back to their home in West Africa.

Not that young Francois felt at home in Cameroon, at least early on. He was fluent in French, one of the few languages spoken by Cameroonians across the country. But without the local language, Ewondo, he struggled to make friends.

"It was difficult," Francois admitted. "But when you're a kid, it's easy to adapt."

And Francois did adapt. He learned Ewondo, which he continues to speak with family members today. He graduated from high school and received some training in hospitality and culinary arts.

Francois soon followed in his father's footsteps, pursuing an international career. His work as a tourism official for Cameroon's government took him across Africa and Europe. He had a son, now 19, and a daughter, now 24, in Cameroon. His work brought him to London, where he met his now former wife, an American.

Her work took her back to the States. In 2006, Francois, still with limited English, together with his son followed her. He then took a job at Penn State University and they moved to State College. It was because of their divorce, just a couple of months after the move, that Francois once again found himself starting anew.

"I lost everything," Francois recalled. "I lost the house, [my cars] . everything."

What he described as a messy divorce left him with little resources. So he remained in State College but struggled. He said he even lived in a shelter for a couple of months. Finally, a search for a culinary arts program led him to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2009.

Francois knew almost nothing about Pittsburgh. He had only lived in America for three years. But with the move to the Steel City came a new life - a life Francois embraced by becoming an American citizen. …

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