Cameroon native Henri Adiassa received a basketball scholarship to Lehigh, and received assistance from the university's ICAPE program

Henri Adiassa left Cameroon in central Africa when he was barely a teenager. He left his family, friends, teammates—everything he knew—to attend school in the United States, first in Maryland and then in California. 

Adiassa, who received a scholarship to play center for the Lehigh University basketball team and is studying African studies, hasn’t been back to Cameroon in nearly a decade, but he hopes his hard work will help improve the lives of his family back home.

“The most important goal is to give back to my community,” he says. “Somebody helped me when I was young, and the biggest goal is to give that opportunity back to other kids in my neighborhood.”

Henri Adiassa playing basketball at Lehigh University
Henri Adiassa playing basketball at Lehigh University.

After completing his first year at Lehigh, but not without struggles, Adiassa’s basketball coach recommended the University’s StepUp program, an intensive program offered by the University’s International Center for Academic and Professional English (ICAPE), which teaches students comprehensive English language and cultural training.

“It was hard to adjust,” Adiassa says. “StepUp has helped me with scheduling, planning, and keeping ahead of my school work.” 

The basketball player received an additional scholarship to participate in the program last summer. 

“Dr. [Ashley] Murphy [assistant director for ICAPE] really helped me,” Adiassa says, noting that he struggled during his high school years at Crossroads School in Beverly Hills because he didn’t have much of a support community until he started living with two local families. That helped his homesickness, he says. 

When Adiassa moved to Pennsylvania for his undergraduate studies, he once again felt isolated, living in a dorm without a family support system. He started to lean heavily on his basketball team—“a great group of guys,” he says—and one of his athletic advisers.  

“I can go to her office and talk to her,” he says. “And she always has a bunch of candy.” 

Murphy says the StepUp program, which is available to anyone who has achieved an intermediate level of English proficiency, including Lehigh University students, scholars, community members, and spouses of Lehigh students, scholars, faculty, and staff, really helped transform Adiassa. 

He is better able to manage his class and homework schedules, alongside his rigorous basketball practice schedules. Adiassa says he is confident he can play well again during his next season. 

“I will be able to handle all of it,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it.”