When Saturnino John came to the United States as a refugee in 1994 from the Republic of South Sudan, he always knew he would one day go back.
“Ever since I came to this country, I wanted to achieve that particular goal,” John said. “I wanted to go back, educate people with what I know.”
John, 42, is currently a videographer editor for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He began his undergraduate studies at the University of South Dakota in the spring of 1997 and graduated with a Mass Communications major with an emphasis in electronic media.
Before the end of May, John will travel back to South Sudan to help establish a TV station in his home state.
“I’m not saying I don’t appreciate it here, but I’m just saying, it’s like what I know, there are so many people in this country that already know this. If I’m not here, someone else can do this, but when I go back home, not so many people are blessed with what I know.”
John, who started at SDPB as a student, has worked for the station for more than 10 years, but how he ended up in Vermillion in the first place was totally accidental. In fact, John says he’s “still just visiting.”
John arrived in New Jersey on August 8, 1995 and stayed for 11 months, working in a knitting factory. He and a friend moved to Nashville, Tenn., where he lived for a few months. During his time in Nashville, he traveled to Vermillion to visit a friend.
“At that time, they had an international student orientation, so we sat inside waiting for him to finish,” John said. “They gave us forms, we filled them out, and we got accepted and that’s how I ended up here.”
John’s first few days in the United States were less than reassuring. After no one picked him up from the airport over the weekend, he was finally taken to the apartment set up for him. The day after his arrival, someone was shot in the elevator of his apartment building.
“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness,’” he said. “I thought I was running from one conflict and now I’m in another. I was beginning to wonder, should I stay? Should I fly back?”
John says his original intention with his degree was to work on documentary-type storytelling.
“We have so much rich culture back home that has not been recorded,” John says. “(I want to) record all of the cultural aspects that we have and save it for the next generation.”
While that is his ultimate goal, John says his primary job when he returns to his country will be establishing the TV station as the director of information, a job that will prove to be difficult as media is government-controlled in South Sudan.
“When you start telling a story like PBS does, you are the voice of the people,” he says. “That way, you’re not pointing the finger to anybody. There are two sides to a story, and then people tell the story by themselves. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
SDPB Production manager Brad Van Osdel has worked with John since John started as a student. Van Osdel says he knew John would eventually return.
“When (South Sudan) got their independence from Sudan, you could see in him that spark – now is the time it would be safe to go – and it was his opportunity,” Van Osdel said.
SDPB producer Stephanie Rissler said John is the kind of person who understands the difficulties in life and doesn’t sweat the big stuff. Even though she’s nervous for him to go, she says she’s happy and excited.
“I think with him, he has such a bigger mission on this world, and I see that as part of his mission,” Rissler says.
Challenges aside, for John, it’s about getting the job done and sharing what he’s learned in his years in the U.S.