At first, Sherel Alpkaya wasn’t sure what she’d gotten herself into. All she knew was that she was going to play soccer for Jamestown Community College in New York, in a town called Olean. But when Sherel decided that she wanted to go to school in New York, she had the same picture in her head that many people, especially international students, do. That is, she was thinking of New York City.
“When I came, I was almost disappointed that it wasn’t New York City," said Sherel. "Where I’m from at home, it’s a big city, and Olean, well, isn’t. But now, that’s what I really like about it.”
The first few weeks were difficult for Sherel. She had inadvertently arrived a month before preseason, so none of her teammates were on campus yet. The first time she went for a run, she forgot her phone and ended up lost. Eventually, though, her teammates arrived, the season started, and things began to turn around.
“My first year was the best year ever," said Sherel, "because the girls that lived with me were on the soccer team. They were all really good, and they all had the same background as me. They were almost all internationals.”
Her first year, two of the girls were also from Australia and one was from Toronto, with the lone American coming from Buffalo. But more than that, they all came from different backgrounds. The other girls had deep Australian roots, while Sherel was a first-generation Australian. The girl from Toronto was Jewish, and the girl from Buffalo was a devout Catholic. The experience of living with people from backgrounds different from her own was eye-opening, said Sherel.
“Even though JCC is a little school, it felt like I was having the best international experience I could. I learned so much from the other girls I roomed with.”
But the thing Sherel appreciates most about JCC and the town of Olean is the people and the sense of community that she feels everywhere.
“I love so many things about this place. I like the high school football games, how people from Olean and the community go and actually care about them. Back home there’d be nobody, but here it’s this great time for people to get together. In Australia, people lived on my street, and I didn’t know them because [Sydney]’s so big. If someone’s parents got divorced or died, you wouldn’t even know until months later. But I got here and everybody already knew that I’m the Australian girl. Some people went out of their way to make dinner for me.”
For now, Sherel’s not sure of where she’ll end up next. She knows that she wants to continue her studies in the United States, but whether she remains in New York or goes somewhere else is yet to be determined. When asked if she had considered transferring to another school right after she first got to JCC, she said that she had considered it.
“But Olean has something about it that wants to keep you here. The people make you feel comfortable; they make you feel welcome. I guess you don’t want to leave it, because once you do, there’s nothing like it again.”
Favorite Class: Group Dynamics: “The teacher (Jesse Zeiders) turned every single chair in the room into a circle and you were forced to communicate. You had to change spots every class, so you were always by different people. Instead of writing things on the board, he would give people a ball of yarn, and if you had to answer a question, you would have to throw the ball of yarn to another person, and then have to untangle it by the end of the class. That was my favorite class, and I would recommend that everyone take it."
Favorite Thing about Living in New York: “The four seasons. Back home we just have the one season: summer. Now I appreciate things a little more, especially after seeing how cold it can get in the winters here. I like how the leaves change colors. I like that people bring apple cider and donuts to our games. I never knew pumpkin donuts even existed. I had my first pumpkin this year. We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia, so you don’t see little kids all dressed up.”
Favorite Spot on Campus: "In here [the Learning Center], because there’s always people to interact with. I’ve made a bunch of friends working here, and I learn almost as much from the people I tutor as they do from me.”
Coming to JCC: “When I look back on it now, the coach that I had and the people at JCC were so helpful. It took maybe a year for my whole process. I don’t remember having to print anything off, ever; everything was sent to me. Honestly, they made it so much easier. My coach definitely helped a lot.”
Academics at JCC: “I got my first paper back with red all over it, and that’s never happened to me before. I was used to getting As, but then I started getting Cs. After my first two essays, the teacher sat down with me and helped me get it right, and the next essay was a B+, and now I’m back to getting As. I don’t know if that would happen at any other college but here, because it's the size it is.”