Harlem, New York is where I grew up. One hour and fifteen minutes away from Stony Brook to be exact. That’s barely any time at all, so why do I feel so out of place here? Why do I feel like I stepped into a whole new world here at Stony Brook? One would think that with that distance being so close, my way of life would be remotely similar, but that isn’t the case.  

I’m sure there are people who can relate when I say that growing up in a single parent household is not easy, nor is it impossible. Turning out the way I did was a conscious decision I made a long time ago. Growing up, I saw my mother go through struggles, and I was oblivious to it all for a while. But I started to catch on pretty soon. One person trying to provide food, clothes and shelter for three bodies is not easy, let alone on a home attendant salary. I opened my eyes by the age of 9 or so and knew I wanted to help. So I set out to fulfill mini accomplishments en route to a bigger dream. One day, I’ll be able to take the load off of her shoulders and say to her, “I saw the sacrifices you made for me as a child and nothing will ever replace that.” I’ll be the man of the house now.

My brother Omar, 21, was my immediate role model as a kid. When he would go outside, I would go outside. When he would go to the pool, I would go the pool. When he would go hang out with his friends, I would make them my friends too.

At some point though, things changed. By the time I was in high school, Omar would have seen the inside of a jail cell more times than I can count with one hand. His friends, the same people I associate myself with, were right there with him. This is the type of environment I grew up in, so how did I end up here at Stony Brook? Maybe I feel so out of place because I really don’t belong here.

I feel like there’s a moment in everybody’s life when they come to  realize how they want their lives to play out. Some get there faster than others. Some are forced to make the decision due to circumstances brought upon them.  For me it was seeing my 15 year old role model in juvenile hall, while I was heading into high school. I still consider Omar my role model, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to follow his footsteps. I’d rather learn from his mistakes.

I walk down the halls and I see a bunch of unfamiliar faces  from cultures I’ve never even heard of. How can a community with this many students have such a close knit culture? Why do I feel like an outsider? Culture shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes. But I grew up an hour and fifteen minutes away. I can’t be going through culture shock being this close to home, can I?

Being able to attend this school is no small feat. Yet here I am, walking side by side with some of the most brilliant minds this country has to offer. Do I belong here? Of course I do. Whether I’m going through culture shock or not, this story is one that anybody can use as motivation. Wherever you grow up, the feeling of unfamiliarity you get encountering new places is your body making room for growth as a person. So push yourself like I have, and when you’ve made it to a space where you feel out of place, keep going.