My Story

September 21, 2013; 8:35 AM. I remember the distinct smell of the fuel. I sat in the window seat, gazing at the road next to the airport. I saw my grandma standing outside of our family-owned car rental company, waving sadly at the plane. I took a final glance at the beach and the clear blue waters that we would soon be soaring over. As the plane moved away from the terminal and towards the runway, I thought about my family and friends who I had just said goodbye to. My heart was racing; I was full of emotions. My mom, my three younger brothers, and I all held hands as the plane accelerated, lifted off the ground, and flew towards the United States of America. I was born and raised on the island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. The 37-square mile island is uniquely divided into a Dutch and a French side and is characterized by serene beaches, delicious Caribbean cuisine, and breath-taking sights. For many people, the island is a stunning vacation spot, but for me, it was and will always be home. My childhood was simple; full of love and laughter. I lived in a small apartment on the French side. On weekday mornings, I would put on my school uniform, and my mom would drop my brothers and I off to school, which was located on the Dutch side. After school, we would go to our family-owned car rental, do our homework, and chat with tourists, until my parents were done with work for the day. Most of my time was spent with family; my cousins were like my siblings, and my aunts were like my additional mothers. My great grandmother, “Grandma Ello,” was the matriarch of our family. I spent many days at Grandma Ello’s house. She always had something to offer, whether it was sound advice or her famous Johnny Cakes. I would greet her with a hug and a kiss on each cheek, which is customary and respectful in my culture. She would tell me, “Child, you do good in school, ya hear! Your schooling is something they can never take away from you.” I would show her my report cards which were always straight A’s. She was always very proud of me. After chatting with her, I would rush to play with my cousins, running around the yard and climbing the Genip tree. Without a doubt, my family has shaped the person I have become; they taught me to be giving, respectful, friendly, and to keep my education as a top priority. September 21, 2013; 11:40 PM. After a long day of traveling, we finally made it to Maryland. I remember walking into my new house and feeling a rush of excitement. We made it to our new home! I remember sitting on the floor of my new bedroom (as we did not yet have furniture), thinking about the challenges I was about to face. I thought about my first day of high school, just two days away. I also thought about how much I had already missed my family, including my father who had not moved with us. I was overwhelmed, but I knew I had to stay focused; I understood that our move was a sacrifice so that we could have greater opportunities. The challenges surely came. Moving from a small island made me feel like a tiny fish in a huge ocean. I felt that no one could truly understand me, because they did not know my culture or relate to my upbringing. I felt like I was losing a piece of myself, a piece that is so important to me and that defines who I am. I also experienced the loss of loved ones after our move. My little cousin passed away from leukemia in 2014 and my great grandmother went onto a better place in 2016. I was not there for their final moments. These losses strengthened my realization that I have to appreciate every moment that I have on my island with my family and my friends. They also make the goodbyes at the airport much, much harder. Today, four years after the big move, I have adjusted to my new home in Maryland and I am enjoying being a freshman at the University of Maryland. However, the challenges do not cease. Shortly after starting college, an event happened that would change me forever: Hurricane Irma. It destroyed my island, and for many days it destroyed me as a person. But, these experiences can only make me stronger and more appreciative, and they make my goals and motivations greater. So yes, moving from St. Maarten is a challenge, but it also has taught me so much about life. I always make a conscious effort to never forget where I came from. My island and my family molded me into who I am today, and my ultimate goal is to be in a position where I can give back to my island and make my family proud. ​This is my story. Thank you.

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