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Wellness: Things I Wish I Knew

Posted November 4, 2016

Wellness is a special blog series that aims to promote an honest, open, and supportive culture of physical and mental health on campus.

In this installment, Illustration junior Josh Solas shares his experiences with moving to the United States and starting college, and provides helpful information for easing the transition to KCAD.
Illustration student Josh Solas Josh Solas (credit: Zebadiah Yap-Chung)

Around this time in 2014, I was a new student at Kendall College of Art And Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) and would have just moved into an apartment near campus. As an international student, my move-in date was first. I had a 4-bedroom apartment to myself. My mom booked a hotel and she helped me get settled in.

Back then I had no idea what I was doing, how school was going to go, or if I’d enjoy the experience of living in America. Now, I’m still figuring many things out, but I can say I am enjoying myself. I’m doing pretty well in school and I’m in good company.

Two years in to my time at KCAD, I have a few bits of knowledge to impart that I’m glad I now know. I wrote this with first-year and international students in mind. Not that I don’t want the rest of you to read this (I like you too and I think you’re awesome), but some of this might not be relatable to you.

Anyways, here’s a few things I’m glad I now know:

Keep in touch.
When you’re far away from home, keep in touch with family and friends from home. However infrequent, it’ll be appreciated, and you’ll feel good about it. It’ll be easy in the beginning because you have more time and you’re lonely as heck. When school starts and you settle into a friend group it gets harder to keep in touch. Trust me – I know. When school starts and the workload increases, it’s going to be difficult to remember to find the time to call. But do it. It’s important.

“Every pan knock a street dem waan go but nah have no money”.
“Every time a pan is knocked in the streets they want to go, but they don’t have any money.” This Jamaican proverb basically means you don’t have to go out every time you’re invited to. It’s good to be aware of how much hanging out you actually can afford and to find ways to save money when you go out. It’s also important to learn to say no, and learn to enjoy your own company. If you have a budget like mine, you either are eating healthy and going out, leaving you with no money for art supplies; you are going out a lot and spending money on art supplies, forcing you to eater cheaper food that is not as healthy; or you are eat healthy and spending money on art supplies but then not going out as much as a result. I prefer the last scenario.

Learn to accept new information.
Don’t feel guilty for changing how you see things. You’re growing up, and this is the time to do just that. This is also crucial to your development as an artist. As you learn new things, experiment with styles and concepts and find new ways to use your medium to convey them.

work by student Josh Solas"The Revenant" by Josh Solas (image courtesy of the artist)

Represent your home, your community, and your country wherever you go and in whatever you do.
If you are like me and are the only person from a certain place, you’re officially given the title of ambassador of your hometown or country. Jamaica is a country of 2.8 million people.  Imagine if I was your first and only impression of Jamaica and I was a jerk to people.  Jamaica would automatically be the heartland of jerks (pun intended) and tall people who draw well. Be proud of who you are.

Play the culture game and play it well.
The culture game is the game that every immigrant has to play, whether they want to or not. It is the idea of balancing one’s individuality as a foreigner with adopting ideas from the new place he/she lives in. Winning the game means balancing the two well and not losing yourself in the process. Your prize is acceptance. It’s honestly a pretty sad thing to think about – one must assimilate to be accepted. At the same time, in the case of being an artist, you need to cater to your audience. So, it’s a part of life. One perfect example is the California roll (hear me out). Cream cheese isn’t originally a part of the Japanese diet, and avocados don’t grow in Japan, but you can go to a restaurant and have sushi with both of those ingredients. In essence, every Asian restaurant in the Western world selling California rolls is playing the culture game.

It also is sad because even though you’d think that you only play the game in the country you’ve migrated to, you also have to play it when you go back home. You’re in a state of limbo where you’re too foreign for where you’re from and the place you’ve moved to. But a lot of it comes from outer approval, which you can choose to dismiss or take into consideration. No matter what, be yourself and do not forget who you are.

Bring as much food from home as you can.
Assume that Grand Rapids doesn’t have the food you loved back home. If your food is as important in your life as Jamaican food is in mine, this cannot be stressed enough. Just to show you how seriously I take this, when I came to the United States from Jamaica, all my clothes fit in my carry-on luggage. I had one checked bag and I stuffed 50lbs worth of food in there. It doesn’t normally last me all semester, but when you’re sick of the food around you, it’s nice to have food from home.

Learn how to cook.
When you’re on your own, you’re not going to last for long eating only pizza rolls and TV-dinners. Again, trust me. I know.

My first month in the U.S., I didn’t cook at all. I knew the basics of cooking, but I was lazy and at first my roommates and I would split a lot of our food, and we’d buy things in bulk for the discounts. That meant that freezer food became a core in our diets and by the end of the first month, I felt disgusted with myself. So I started cooking more often and I started to feel a lot better about what I was putting into my body. There’s something about making your own food that adds to your motivation all around.

Keep active.
Along with cooking and eating right, keeping active can only benefit you. Find a sport, go to the gym, hike, jog, whatever. Nothing but good things can come from it. One perk is when you leave home skinny and go back home ripped. The compliments are nice.

Be open and don’t be afraid to meet new people.
9 out of 10 times the person you meet is a good person and equally as shy/anxious to meet people as you are. The one other person isn’t worth wasting your time worrying about. The point is, people aren’t as scary as you might think and everyone has their own insecurities. At the same time, don’t forget who you are. The people you should hang out with are the ones you don’t have to change for.

Take advantage of all the opportunities you can.
One of the great things about KCAD is its opportunities. They’re so many out there, but it’s on you to take advantage of them. If you’re in a client-based profession, which is most of us here at KCAD, you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favors if you think that you’re not going to start taking on freelance jobs until after you leave school. Every time I ask an artist or designer what their biggest regret starting out was, chances are they’re going to say they wish they started putting their work out there sooner. I believe that your career as an artist/designer starts from the day you decided to be one. So work hard in and outside of class. Half of being a creative professional is marketing and business. You can’t expect work to come your way if you’re not doing the groundwork first.

Network. Network. Network.
As I just said, half of being an artist or a designer is marketing and business, and all of that starts with networking. Networking isn’t much different from making friends. In actuality, it’s the same thing, only with networking the primary focus is to potentially exchange skills or opportunities with another person or group. Now, networking overlaps with friendship since every friend is a potential partner or connection or client. So Josh the Jamaican who is a Jerk probably won’t do too well at making good connections with people.

work by student Josh Solas"Self Portrait/I Like Polka Dots I Guess…” by Josh Solas (image courtesy of the artist)

Always put a good face on.
Enjoy yourself and work hard! Remember, you paid good money to be here. Make it count!


  • Sophia Jardine November 25, 2016

    Josh!! Great insight!! Congrats!! God bless

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