The TORCH had the opportunity to learn and share multiple stories of students coming to the United States from foreign countries. These are the accounts of their stories.
Jasiel Martin-Oddom: Ghana
Many people talk about the wonders of leaving their comfort zone; they believe that it allows room for growth and to discover aspects of life they never thought they would. For some, leaving their comfort zone means to literally leave the place they were born and raised and head on an adventure—a path that might transform their lives.
Junior Jasiel K.N. Martin-Odoom was born and raised in Ghana. Although he loved Ghana, he could not ignore his desire to travel and explore other parts of the world. He made the decision to leave his home and study in the U.S.
“What made me want to study someplace else was a mixture of curiosity, sense of adventure and a crazy passion to learn from a different country and perhaps use that experience for the improvement of my country,” Martin-Odoom said.
Martin-Odoom is a junior at St. John’s University, he is pursuing a degree in criminal justice and forensic psychology. According to Martin-Odoom, St. John’s became his second home, which is why he is highly involved on campus. He is a resident assistant, a DNY Peer Leader, student ambassador and the president of the Ozanam Society.
Martin-Odoom said that the relationships he had with both family and friends back home is what he misses the most.
He faced culture shock, which is one thing that most people deal with when they move to a different place. In Martin-Odoom’s case, culture shock “hit him” the hardest in his speech. Growing up in Ghana, he never spoke differently from everybody else. In the United States, this was a different story.
“I have always been a talker,” he said. However, when he came to NY, his accent was always pointed out.
“After spending 19 plus years with people who sound like you, when every other person points out your accent, it shocks you to the core,” he said. Despite the struggle, he never got discouraged. “After a while, the accent became my thing,” Martin-Odoom said.
Failure was his biggest fear when he left Ghana.
“My family had put aside a lot to bring me here and I did not want to fail them,” he said. “And I still do not want to.” He said he is always striving to be excellent in everything he does.
Martin-Odoom made the most out of his opportunities. According to him, he was able to grow substantially throughout his time in New York.
“I am too much of a global citizen to call just one place home,” he said.
Delanique Millwood: Jamaica
The beautiful island of Jamaica is many people’s dream vacation. The weather, the relaxed atmosphere, beaches and the captivating Jamaican Patois makes you want to pack your summer clothes and escape the busy big city routine. For St. John’s junior Delanique Millwood, this Caribbean paradise is home.
Millwood describes the place where she was born and raised as a small, energetic island. Hectic New Yorkers dream of that carefree enviornment. In Millwood’s case, living in a place without any worries actually concerned her.
“I didn’t want to become a lazy island gal, you know?” Millwood said. “So I thought that moving to the U.S., especially New York, would change my mindset.”
Millwood is a career peer, a member of the advertising club and the secretary of the St. John’s Fashion Club.
Fashion plays a huge role in Millwood’s life, and she began to view New York City as her second home.
“I love fashion, and that is how I stimulate my creativity in anything,” Millwood said. “New York is full of inspiration, [and] that is what I was lacking back home, in Jamaica.”
A big change sometimes comes with challenges and perhaps fears. Yet, such obstacles can only be as big as a person makes them. “Moving here, my biggest fear was becoming disconnected with my childhood friends and [the] authenticity of my culture,” Millwood said.
“When I got here, my biggest challenge was finding real Caribbean people who attended SJU, and not those whose grandmother’s mother was born in Jamaica so they claim being Jamaican,” she joked.
Millwood isn’t the same Jamaican gal from three years ago. Her initial idea that moving to New York would transform her was exactly what happened.
“I became a woman, you know?” Millwood said. “I am more responsible, open-minded, risk-taking, and just learning as I go along.”
Although she lives in the fashion capital, it is impossible for her to forget her roots. When she described Jamaicans, she shared a historical not-so-fun fact about her motherland, and how Jamaica was ruled by the British and became independent in 1962.
“Now we are people full of laughter and love,” Millwood said. “As our motto says ‘out of many, one people,’” she said.
Erick Reyes: Bolivia
Since he was six years old, Erick Reyes was in love with tennis. He knew from an early age that the sport would be a huge part of his life.
“Tennis is everything that I have and do, and everything I am as a person,” he said.
Reyes left his home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia to play professional tennis.
When he was playing in Mexico, he suffered a bad shoulder injury and stopped playing on the professional level. However, he moved to Argentina and kept on playing tennis.
When he was 20 years old, he made a choice to move to the United States to not only continue on playing the sport he loved, but to also get a good college education.
His first stop was Kansas, where he studied in Wichita State University. It wasn’t the right fit for him, though. Reyes needed to be in a much faster paced environment where he was surrounded by excitement.
“I always wanted to live in a big city, so New York City would be the perfect place for me,” he said.
Reyes started to reach out to other schools. It was then when a friend told him to apply to St. John’s and get in contact with their tennis coach. He decided to move to New York City, where he studies communications as a senior at St. John’s University.
He said that adapting to New York was very easy for the most part.
Reyes has been independent since an early age, so moving from Wichita to New York was a much easier transition to him at this stage in his life than if he had moved here without traveling to any other countries before.
The responsibility aspect he learned through playing a sport was something that helped in his personal life as well.
Reyes also said he wasn’t scared to meet people because he knew he would grow closer to his teammates.
“If I wasn’t an athlete, maybe I would’ve had a harder time,” he said.
Although he didn’t have insecurities about moving, he was timid at first to speak English and to express himself. Luckily, this feeling went away quickly.
The beauty of sports, especially popular ones like tennis, is that you can find people all over the world that might be interested in it.
Reyes wants to pursue a professional career after college, and New York isn’t the final stop on his destination.
“I don’t plan to go back to Bolivia, not yet at least,” Reyes said. “I am already planning where to go next. It could be in the U.S., Europe, anywhere.”