*This story is part of an ongoing series that highlights campus leaders during Black Heritage Month.*
Residing in Kingston, Jamaica, Abbigayle Rambaran was fully prepared to attend pre-law school at the University of the West Indies. After celebrating her acceptance and ready to move on to the next chapter of her life, Rambaran felt something wrong in her heart.
The day before orientation, she recoiled in uncertainty and chose not to go.
After expressing her dilemma to her mother, Rambaran made the decision to study overseas and pursue medicine.
That’s when her journey to USF began.
In 2017, Rambaran finished her degree in health sciences. She is now working on a post-baccalaureate degree in nursing.
“Ever since choosing USF, I have not regretted that decision at all,” Rambaran said.
However, it was not an easy start.
After taking a gap year and commuting from Riverview her first semester, Rambaran was finally able to find her footing. It came in the form of an organization that now holds a special place in her heart: Caribbean Cultural Exchange (CCE).
“I got back that flame (for being involved) again,” Rambaran said.
Rambaran ran for the treasurer position last year and is now the CCE president. She was drawn to the organization because she felt there was “so much potential” and saw how much it benefited her group of friends.
“It’s basically a home away from home for all of us,” Rambaran said. “Being around my culture was very meaningful to me since I was being immersed in a whole new country.”
Rambaran said people often don’t understand her because of her accent, so she speaks slowly or differently. The language barrier hindered Rambaran to the point where it stopped her from actively participating in class.
“It really struck me when I said to someone ‘hush’ but they thought I was telling them to shut up and I was so confused,” Rambaran said. “They told me what it meant in American, but in Jamaica, it pretty much means everything will be fine — don’t worry.
“People here, are just different.”
Rambaran said she also struggled with the differentiation with ethnic groups and races.
“Back home, even on a job application form, they don’t ask you if you’re white or African-American — we’re just all Jamaican,” Rambaran said. “In Jamaica, there are Asian people, black people, Indian people, but we don’t see it as a dividing factor.”
This led Rambaran to what she said was an “identity crisis.”
During her first week at USF, Rambaran was approached by a “black organization” and she was confused why there was such an emphasis on the color of their skin.
Rambaran said after this encounter, she was on the fence about whether she was “black enough.”
Being biracial, Rambaran said she was unsure where she fits in with her Indian and black roots.
However, this was not new to Rambaran, since she said she has struggled with bullying about her skin color at a young age.
“I’m all these different cultures but you just want to put me in a box,” Rambaran said.
This led to Rambaran being inspired to join the Black Heritage Month committee. She said she joined the committee to break the stereotype that being black meant having to look a certain way.
Even though Rambaran was beginning to feel more comfortable with herself, she said there was a disconnect out of her control.
“I love that the diversity is well celebrated, but the support is just not there,” Rambaran said. “As an international student, USF likes to talk about all the different cultures and that’s great but when it boils down to the support system to our processes that are different to an American student, it’s not there.”
Some processes Rambaran had trouble adjusting to was with an issue with her scholarship documents. She said because the administration assumed she was a U.S. citizen, her information was processed incorrectly.
Similarly, she said after emailing International Services in December 2017 about her missing I-20 form, which Rambaran said is more important than her passport, she has still not received a response back to date.
“Any time you deal with an advisor here or administration, I don’t really think they’re that trained to deal with our criteria,” Rambaran said.
Due to the current affairs in America such as the Black Lives Matter movement, Rambaran said the image of African-Americans has been construed in the media.
She said, with more black leaders, there will be better representation.
“Having a black leader is important for people to know that there’s more to a black person than the negative,” Rambaran said. “Just being able to have someone you can identify with or having someone to relate to you was exactly what I needed.”