Home Away from Home: Leah Barnett ’17

Leah Barnett ’17 talks about Rollins, studying in the U.S., and the items she brought with her from Jamaica to make her stay in Winter Park feel more like home.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

I am from… Kingston, Jamaica.

I speak… English.

I am majoring in… political science and minoring in communication studies and social entrepreneurship.

I chose Rollins because… I went to a private high school, and I was really used to one-on-one relationships with teachers. That’s what I looked for in a college. I came to Rollins for a visit, and it was an instant connection. I didn’t really look at other schools; it was Rollins the whole time.

After I graduate from Rollins, I want to… be able to travel. My dream job right now is either working on human rights with Ashoka or working as a leadership consultant for my sorority [Alpha Delta Pi]. Those are two things I’m passionate about.

The person who has had the most impact on me at Rollins is… my advisor Ted Gournelos—both in my academic and personal life. I took COM 100 with him, and it was the only class I didn’t get an A in that semester. I think it’s because of the level he expects of his students. He wants us to learn. I’m taking another class with him now, and I’m getting an A because I learned from my mistakes. In my personal life, he’s been there for me in a lot of ways. Next semester, I’m studying abroad with him in Shanghai. During Christmas break, I learned that I couldn’t go because I was supposed to have surgery over the summer. When I found out the surgery wasn’t going to happen, the deadline for study-abroad programs had already passed. He said, “No, you’re still applying; I’ll get you through this.” He contacted the people at international programs, I got the information in very quickly, and they accepted. He gave me the tools and support to do it.

One thing people should know about me is… I can watch a Netflix show in a record amount of time. I finished watching eight seasons of Gilmore Girls in three weeks. I’m a binge watcher, but I get other stuff done.

Something that always makes me smile is… orange juice. Oh my god, it’s so sad. I’m always smiling when I’m drinking orange juice.

The one word that best describes me is… tenacious, at least according to my friends. I know what I want a lot of the times, and I don’t let anything stop me. I just kind of believe that I can do so much, so why stop at small obstacles?

One thing few people know about me is… I’m scared to do my own hair. I just don’t think I do it very well, and I’m so used to going to the hair dresser back home.

The most important person in life is… my brother, Andrew, because he’s been there for me through it all. He has that ability to know how to be there for me emotionally while still telling me exactly how it is and making sure I know when I’m doing something wrong versus when I’m doing it right. I just love that there’s that one person in life, in addition to my parents, who’s a few years older than I am, who knows what I’m going through, and who I can always count on to be there for me.

I am most proud that I… have stayed true to my faith. I think there’s a pressure on Christians because people always want to question the different beliefs around gay marriage or abortion. Those are such big, hot topics in America now so people always want to be like “Well if you believe this, why do you believe in this?” I think a lot of people don’t actually want to hear why you believe in it. They just want to question it. It’s been hard being around a lot of people who aren’t Christian, but I know that it’s a part of the journey.

One thing I wish Americans knew about Jamaica is… that we don’t all smoke weed, and weed is not legal in Jamaica.

The thing I miss most about Jamaica is… everything—the food, the people, the culture, the air, the music…

The biggest cultural obstacle for me has been… speech. Every time I get angry or excited, I’ll speak really fast and people will be like, “Whoa. What did you just say?” And sometimes I unconsciously have an American accent, and I’ll be on the phone with my friends from back home and they’ll be like, “Stop. You sound too American.” It’s this big push and pull every time, and it really does get to me.

The thing about living in America that has been more different than I imagined is… acceptance. America’s the place where everybody wants to be and they’re so accepting of different stuff, but I don’t feel like outside of my friend group and the positive people here at Rollins, I don’t get that very often. And that’s fine, but it was surprising coming into it and there are days when I’m just like maybe I should have went to another school or in a different place or stayed back home.

The best thing about moving to the U.S. has been… meeting new people from all over. That has been fun. And being able to share my culture with them and them sharing theirs. Also just being at Rollins and learning new things.

The weirdest thing about Americans has to be… their obsession with Disney. Maybe that’s because I live in Orlando, but I really see this obsession with Disney World, and I’ve been there, and I don’t get it. I’d rather go to Universal and go on rides.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

In her room

1 | Bridget Sandals
These are handmade by a designer back home, and they’re unique to Jamaica. I have five pairs, and you’ll never find anybody in America wearing them unless they bought them in Jamaica.

2 | Porridge
This is a normal breakfast food back home, but not many restaurants here have it. I grew up having it every Monday because my mom said it was the best food to start the week.

3 | Teddy bear
My freshman year, I lived in McKean on an all-girls floor, and my friend bought this as a keepsake that we all circulated during the year. His name is Virginia, and I got to take him home for the summer. It was a hard summer, and they decided to let me keep him, so every time I’d look at Virginia I’d know that they were always with me.

4 | Bracelet
I don’t wear jewelry often but my mom does, so she keeps buying it for me and this one has the Jamaican colors on it, so when I look at it I think of my mom.

5 | My passport
This is my go-to best friend that I can use to get anywhere. It’s basically my life.

6 | Prom photo
This is my best friend and I at prom. If you flip it over, there’s a letter from her from Florence—she studied there for a year.

7 | Bible
My aunt gave me this Bible, and she decorated the top of it. I keep it with me all the time. I have been a Christian my whole life—my parents are very involved at their church and my grandfather is a deacon. Jamaica is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for most churches per square mile.