My journey from Jamaica to Philadelphia

From culture shock to language barriers, these are the experiences of a Caribbean girl in America

Imagine this: a tiny girl moving from a small country to a state that is almost 11 times as large as the country she’s been living in for her entire life.

Well, that little girl is me, and my transition from the very tropical island of Jamaica made me realize that Pennsylvania is hardly what I had imagined. 

I was born and raised in Jamaica, and I grew up in a small, close-knit community of about 500. I lived a sheltered life, and literally everyone and their mothers knew each other, and the familial ties were the foundation of everything that happens in the space.

I was raised by farmers, and it was not ideal for me as I am afraid of grass and animals, which was all a part of the farm life. I later moved on to attend private all girls high school that sat on a hilltop, and continued to live a sheltered life. 

I always knew the farm life was not for me, so I was rather excited when I moved to the U.S.

I felt as the city life was more of my speed, though the transition was somewhat difficult, and the overdose of culture shock was too real. The difference ranged from school to behaviors, fashion, values, dress-code, and language. 

I’ve been asked the weirdest questions about Jamaica. Some of the questions include: “Are there roads there?” “Do y’all live in huts or trees?” ” Do Jamaicans have cars” and the stereotypical ones like “Do ALL Jamaicans smoke weed?” and “Are they all Rastafarians?”

Sometimes I’ve answered these outrageous questions, but other times I’ve chose to ignore them.

I started high school in America on a cold April morning in 2012. Caribbean students were assigned to guide me to my classes throughout the day, with the hopes of making my transition somewhat easier. It was then that I realized that American schools were way less strict than the ones I’ve been accustomed to in Jamaica.

One thing I noticed about the American life is most students here do not adhere to the dress code of wearing school uniforms. Several times, it was hard for me to tell the difference between teachers and the students since I did not know who was who!

So, the first week I referred to everyone as “mister” or “miss.” It was also shocking to realize that everything I learned in the 10th grade here was exactly what I learned back in the 7th grade in Jamaica. 

However, since being moving to the US, the language barrier has always been an issue for me and continues to be one today. 

My spellings, pronunciation, grammar, and sentence structure were very different from my American counterparts as I had previously learned British English back on the island. I have a very thick Jamaican accent (nearly an English accent), and I was usually made fun of because of how I pronounced my words and how I sounded when I spoke. I was loud and proud of my accent though, so the mocking never really bothered me much. 

I eventually started college, I met some great people, and I have been able to fully immerse myself in learning more about the city while enjoying college life. My college experience has not been what I expected or what TV makes it seem like.

I don’t party at all because I despise large crowds and gatherings. I have also developed quite an interest in photography, so I prefer to visit Penn’s Landing and take pictures, or blog about random thoughts and topics. I have managed to become the student president of the National Society of Leadership and Success though, which is pretty much the coolest thing that has happened to me as a Temple student.  

I have become more independent than I already was. I am now used to doing everything for myself and my independence has given me the confidence to be more open to new ideas and ready for any challenge at any moment.

I also hope to travel the world someday, and living the city life is the best way for me to meet new people of very diverse backgrounds. I’m also able to communicate and work better with people as a result of this.

I do sometimes encounter moments when I miss my old life in Jamaica. I miss the people, my family, the relaxed environment and the sun, so I try to go back as much as I can (especially during the winter here in the US because they are brutal).

I have to admit that what I probably miss most is the food. I might sound ethnocentric, but there is nothing like Jamaican food from Jamaica. Food is everywhere on the island – the roadsides while you drive to your destination, restaurants, shops, etc. You name a place and they will most likely be able to serve you food. 

Despite the fact that I live abroad, Jamaica is and will always be home to me! Jamaica is my way of life. 

Temple University