I entered the United States on June 6, 2002, after being accepted at Temple University to do my bachelor’s in International Business Administration & Marketing. I’m the second in my family to move to the United States in order to pursue higher education. My parents didn’t want me to move so far away but understood why I was doing so. When I arrived everything was so different: buildings were taller, roads were wider and the people were different, too.
I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, small Caribbean islands off the coast of Venezuela. We are known for being very hospitable and somewhat carefree. My neighbors were part of my family. We cared for everyone on our street and in the community. I’ve noticed that depending on where you live in the United States, you may not even know your neighbor’s name.
I’m also very cultured. My country is known for the steel pan, calypso, limbo, soca and carnival. Not many people know about my culture and they don’t seem to care. That doesn’t bother me because I love where I’m from and what I represent.
The culture shock I experienced came in the form of people’s behaviors and mannerisms, the food, the music and speech. Everyone says I speak with an accent but I don’t hear it. I do hear something when I go home, though.
When I visit home, my family asks me to leave America behind and stop speaking like “dem yankees”. I have to make a quick adjustment. It’s hard sometimes because when I’m in the United States I have to slow down my speech in order for people to understand me, but when I go home I have to change that or else no one would understand me there.
The children I’ve encountered in the United States are very different from children in Trinidad and Tobago. I hear the way they speak to their parents or people in authority and the things they say would warrant a slap where I’m from. That might seem unfair to people here but that’s the way things are done in the Caribbean. Children respect elders.
Although things are definitely different, it’s ok. I understand that this is not my country, and I accept people for who they are, but I’m also very much aware of where I’m from. I have every intention of returning to Trinidad and Tobago. If for some reason I don’t, my family will be raised with the same values of a Trinbagoian.
Rhonda Gillian Ottley
Institute on Disabilities
Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness (SOCA)