Cornyn faces language challenges on path to Pierce

Emmy Cornyn strives for success despite past hardships.



Zach Sissel


After Emmy Cornyn left her home in Liberia, she was adopted twice.

In Cornyn’s early years, her biological parents wanted their children to go to school, so they signed a waiver to send them to the Daniel Hoover Children Village where they could receive that education.

It was in this orphanage in her hometown of Dixville, West Africa, that Cornyn, 20, and her siblings stayed for six years.

The orphanage wasn’t all bad, Cornyn said. She remembers her parents could visit freely and meals were prepared, but most of all, there was school.

Within this multi-building complex, all children from ages four to 16 were accepted.

“It is like a college dorm,” Cornyn said.

Within the circular compound, six aquamarine buildings surrounded an area. Each building was coined a “dorm” and was separated by gender, then by age.

Quick to recall, Emmy remembered boys weren’t allowed to visit her building, but as she spoke her growing smile said otherwise.

The “mothers” who should have caught those boys had one room in each of these buildings. Two women were assigned to supervise, one at night and one during the day.

Toward the last year at the orphanage, a family from Michigan began sending letters back and forth with 15-year-old Cornyn and her siblings.

The children were officially adopted on Dec. 31, 2007 and arrived in the United States.

Even though Cornyn knew English fluently, she wasn’t prepared for the American accent.

She spoke English in Liberia because the country was colonized by the British in 1822, but British English is different than American English. Due to the American Revolution, the British wanted to set themselves apart through a “better” language system, so many spellings and pronunciations were changed. Those changes still are present in today’s language.

Besides her confusion with the language, there wasn’t a dramatic difference between Africa and the United States, Cornyn said.

The weather in Michigan was colder and every once in a while, she noticed children’s behavior.

“It’s strange to see Americans talk back to parents,” Cornyn said. “In Liberia there are two answers—yes or no. Say no and it’s ok. Say yes and I’m happy.”

Almost as soon as the Cornyns settled in with the Michigan family, accusations of their own bad behavior started and Cornyn’s siblings were blamed.

Many times clothes would be stolen or even on one incident the parents’ bed sheets were cut.

It was four biological children that Cornyn feels set up her siblings.

According to Cornyn, the mother took her biological children’s sides even when there was no evidence of Cornyn or her siblings doing anything wrong.

“Their mom was so immature,” Cornyn said.

Confusion welled within Cornyn as to why the mom would be ready to adopt but not treat all of the children equally.

After tensions peaked, Cornyn’s brother and sister were sent to other families six months later.

Then, after a year of more allegations, Cornyn was sent to Washington to live with a new family.

Now she lives in a two-story duplex with about 30 other people. The house is filled with a multicultural network of individuals.

“All people—black, white, Mexican, Korean, Russian,” Cornyn said.

Not only are there a variety of ethnicities, but several people with disabilities live in the home.

It’s hard for the mother of the household to turn away children.

“Mom never says ‘no,’” Cornyn said.

Generally when families are having issues with adopted children, they ask the Cornyns if their children can stay with them for a little while.

Most of these children end up staying for a long time and a majority is in need of special assistance in some way.

The mother doesn’t want any outside help with the family, so luckily some of the women living in the house are nurses.

Even though she has moved across the Atlantic Ocean and even across the United States, Cornyn still knows education is important.

Looking back, it has been a frustrating experience though.

“When I came here I thought I knew everything,” Cornyn said.

Now she has to take extra time to relearn English grammatically, leaving her in reading and writing classes.

Despite the aggravation, it hasn’t worn her down.

In her five years living in the states, she has condensed four years of high school into three, found a career and just started her first quarter at Pierce College Puyallup.

While in high school, Cornyn volunteered to clean teeth and help dentists. During this time she earned her dental assistant certificate and knew she wanted to continue oral care.

She is pursing a degree for pediatric dental hygiene knowing that she will enjoy it, and that there is money to be made.

“I’ll go shopping every day, every month!” Cornyn said.

Though her drive for education is unwavering, she still has time to talk with her biological parents about twice a month.


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Cornyn faces language challenges on path to Pierce

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