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Neighbors: IC student's love of music transcends countries and cultures


Rosalinda Manata ’22, trained in classical music, is an international student and has participated in the Illinois College Concert Choir, the a cappella Chamber Singers and the Music Honors Society during her time at IC.

By David C.L. Bauer

This article appeared in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier on March 14, 2022.

Rosalinda Manata speaks four languages, but it's the universal language of music in which she is most fluent.

The 21-year-old Illinois College senior, who was born in the African nation of Angola, has a beautiful singing voice, is an accomplished piano and ukulele player, and has been accepted into the master’s degree program in international diplomacy at a prestigious East Coast university.

Manata was diagnosed with retinal blastoma when she was young, and the cancer eventually left her blind.

“My family and I moved to France when I was 2 years old for me to get treatment, so I ended up growing up in France," she said. "I was born in the African culture and I went to school in France, so I had this double culture.”

Manata has vague memories of being able to see before the cancer claimed her sight. She attended a school for blind children in France through the sixth grade, but ever since has “always been surrounded by sighted people. That’s not something that is frightening to me,” she said.

She has had a love and affinity for music for as long as she can remember. She was trained in classical music at a French conservatory, where she learned each musical piece primarily by ear with the occasional assistance of Braille music. 

“I mainly learn and perform music by hearing, because that is something I have very much developed over the years,” Manata said. “I was taught Braille for reading and Braille music, which is slightly different and it is an international system.”

She said she has always loved music very passionately.

“I started doing music when I completely lost my sight, so that became my anchor in the world,” Manata said.

When she was 15, Manata studied in Minnesota for a year as an exchange student, and liked it so much that she decided to return to the United States for college. Manata’s high school in France had an exchange program with Illinois College and she said the Jacksonville school was a perfect fit for her. 

“I had been in Minnesota, so I knew a little bit about the Midwest and I liked it a lot, so I wanted to go back to the Midwest,” Manata said. “I wanted to study international relations, so that’s how I ended up here — because of Illinois College’s international studies major.” 

She said the size of the college makes it easy to interact with her professor a lot more.

“So I have questions that I may not have been able to ask in a big university,” Manata said.

Manata uses a service for Braille transcriptions when needed for her classes, but “I have also learned to be very independent and use my phone and Mac computer,” she said. She was provided a Braille reader that can connect via Bluetooth to her laptop computer and that is how she is able to read whatever is on the screen.

She also has plenty of opportunity to pursue her passion for music. She is part of the Illinois College Concert Choir, the a cappella Chamber Singers, and is a member of the Music Honors Society. Manata also sings in the Trinity Episcopal Church choir. 

Plus, she finds time to play the two musical instruments she has mastered.

“I definitely know the piano very well, but two years ago I started the ukulele,” Manata said. “I enjoy the ukulele a lot more because I sing while I play, and I am able to move a lot more into the space while playing the ukulele.”

Manata said that Illinois College is a friendly place and it’s easy for her to navigate campus. Some aspects of American life have taken getting used to, though.

“You guys give lots of hugs and I was not used to that at all,” Manata said. “In France, it’s lots of kisses, the kisses on the cheeks, and people would argue here that’s actually weirder because you get into people’s faces. But here, you get into people’s personal spaces by hugging them.”

Manata speaks nearly flawless English, French, Spanish and Lingala, which is her native African dialect. She will graduate from Illinois College in May and has been accepted by Seton Hall University in New Jersey to study for her master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy.

She said she will always treasure her years at Illinois College and the friends she has made.

And despite being raised on French cuisine, she has a soft spot for some typical American food that she has grown to love.

“It was mainly hamburgers at first, just like any foreigner; McDonald’s is very popular,” Manata said. "Now, I really love meatloaf.”

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

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