Martha Odhiambo '26 – Introduction

HELLO!! My name is Martha Odhiambo and I am currently a Sophomore (rising sophomore) at Amherst College. I am from Kenya, which automatically makes me fluent in three languages; English, Swahili, and Luo, which is my mother tongue or first language. I am a political science major with hopes of double majoring in math. I however fancy learning different languages, thus, Spanish for four years and hopefully more with future goals of other languages like Korean, French, and Chinese. In Amherst, I am part of the Black Student Union (BSU), African Caribbean Student Association (ACSU), Remnant, and Amherst Christian fellowship. I am also involved with the Center for International Student Engagement as an international student and Club Soccer among others.

On campus I love celebrating different holidays from different countries, dancing with ACSU, watching DASAC (dance and step at Amherst College) performances, being in the science center even though I am more humanities than a STEM person, and taking late-night walks with friends. A fun fact about me is I have had the same drink at Amherst since I discovered it, raspberry ice tea, and I believe the milkshake from the science center cafe is the best milkshake ever, vanilla flavor to be specific.

International Student Experiences

As an international student from Kenya, my Amherst experience can be different or challenging in ways that domestic students, and even professors and faculty, sometimes don’t understand/aren’t aware of. Now before I dig into some of the changes/hurdles that were particularly significant for me, as I stressed in my previous post (and will continue to stress), this is my experience. Not all international students will have these experiences, and not every international student will navigate Amherst the way I did. Let’s get to it! 

  • Language/accent barrier: Even after going to high school in the US for four years, I did sometimes find myself struggling to understand and be understood in class discussions, club meetings, or chats with friends. It is important to realize that it isn’t anyone’s fault. It wasn’t mine, but it wasn’t everyone else’s either, how I dealt with this varied from person to person. As for my professors, I made sure to always ask them to clarify when need be. If it was a small point I missed in class, I made sure to voice it at the moment, but if it was a bigger concept, I used office hours and communicated through emails. Professors will not help you if you don’t reach out to them (they’re not mind-readers!), so it is important you let them know. As for friends, it does take a while to warm up to your friends' accents and for them to warm up to yours, so honestly, all you can do is give it time and be patient with each other while keeping a level of honesty and transparency. 
  • American culture gaps: I grew up in Kenya for whole life, and we definitely didn’t learn about American history, trends, politics, etc. Now I do realize I had more of an advantage than other international students since I did experience high school life here, but it goes without saying that one can’t learn all there is to know about America by only living there during the school year. There were times, as such, I didn’t know much about American history in class or lagged behind on American social trends. My solution for this was simply to ask myself if domestic students would know all about Kenya if they were to start studying there. And the answer is definitely not. So with this, I realized that if there was a piece of important American history that I needed for class, my professors were going to teach me that, but besides that, I didn’t have to love Taylor Swift (amazing artist btw); I didn’t have to know what was trending; and I most definitely didn’t have to be fluent in American culture. Was I willing to learn? Yes, but that didn’t mean forcing down a bunch of information in order to fit in—it meant being open-minded about America and learning about it at my own pace, no pressure. 
  • Seasons: You will never be fully prepared for them. People will tell you how cold winter is, how hot summer can get, or even how beautiful fall is (my favorite season), but you will never be fully prepared for it until you experience it. By “prepared,” I mostly mean mentally prepared, but being physically prepared is much easier. Make sure to have a well-rounded wardrobe. It is not smart to think that you can definitely wear clothes you used to keep warm in freezing temperatures in the hot humid air; that is just impossible—at least, for me it was. But with seasons comes more than just temperatures. Learn about yourself throughout those seasons. Seasons might affect your emotions in different ways, for example, so over that first year, take notes to emotionally prepare you for the next time. 
  • Educating others: You are from a different place and so are many people on campus. The whole idea of diversity is for people to learn about each other’s differences and tell others about theirs, so it goes without saying that you will be in an environment where people will be curious to learn about your way of life and you will be curious to learn about others. Keep an open mind, help others get to know you, and be as patient with people as you would love for them to be with you. Now, it is not your job to make people with mean questions feel validated in the name of educating others (I haven’t experienced this at all, so Amherst for me is doing a great job so far). It is always okay to draw a boundary to how much information you want to share and don’t let anyone cross that boundary out of pressure. It is, at the end of the day, your story, so you decide how you want to share it. Your own pace is best. 

The above are just a few elements that make up the broader international student experience. I will definitely build on this post later—I plan to collect data from other international students to see what we might have in common and what is worth sharing between this week’s and next week’s posts—but I hope that this post series has already inspired you to keep an open mind while unapologetically being you. Thank you for your time. :)

What I wish I knew as a Freshman

Wassup everyone! As the title likely implies, I just finished my freshman year at Amherst College. This year brought me learning, realizations, and discoveries in spades. I wouldn’t say that I am a professional at navigating college now, per se, but I’d definitely say that I’ve found my footing and that I know much more about college than I did before: for now, I have experience, and as they say, experience is the best teacher.  That being said… What did experience teach me, you might ask?  

  • This is a new space, it is okay to lose your balance in the beginning. 
  • I came from a small high school and was very extroverted—I still am. But when I arrived on campus, while I knew this was a “small school,” for me Amherst felt big. I got nervous about whether I was going to be okay in such a different environment. Was I going to make friends? How could I keep my extroversion up in such a vast space? What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? Did my accent thicken over summer break? Was anyone going to understand me? All of these questions threw me off because somehow I felt like being extroverted had prepared me enough to handle new beginnings. But that is when I realized that other freshmen might be going through the same thing and that seniors also probably went through the same experience. In learning this, I gave myself time to open up: to people, to new buildings, to a new environment, and to the experiences that I was yet to experience. So losing one's balance doesn’t mean losing oneself, it just means taking a deep breath and finding a balance that works even better for you. 


  • You are at Amherst College for a reason. 
  • This was a big one for me. When I first got here, I doubted whether I was cut out to be part of the Mammoth community. Was I as smart as everyone else? At one point, I started wondering what prompted the Admissions office to select me—but after talking with my friends about it, I realized that many other Amherst students felt the same way, and that none of us needed to.  If you end up coming here, the same applies to you.  If you were chosen, it means you have something special that the Admissions committee thought you should share with the rest. So yes, you are definitely different from other people, but not in a bad way; on the contrary, that difference is exactly why you belong in Amherst.  It is one important piece of the puzzle Amherst requires to be whole. Never question that. 


  • Resources are there for YOU!
  • There are so many on-campus resources that resonate with everyone and they are there to serve you. One of the best resources is your professors. Their job is to help you succeed, so go to office hours as regularly as you can, and ask as many questions as you can think of. You are never being “too much.”  I’d also recommend regularly reading the school newspaper, The Daily Mammoth—it’s a great source of opportunities of all kinds, academic, professional, and extracurricular, and I wish I’d read it more frequently last year—and any other Amherst-centered news outlets you can find. Don’t be too dependent on one source and forget about others! Last but not least, I highly recommend going to the events planned by our resource centers. They offer so much valuable information—not to mention, most of the time, great food. 


  • Keep a balance between academic and non-academic activities. 
  • Do you get so lost in hanging out with people that you end up procrastinating too much like I did? Do you get so wrapped up in studying that you end up not taking a breather when you need one? Do you study well with friends or on your own? Asking yourself these questions early on in your college career will help you figure out what balance between social and solo works for you.  That being said, since (again!) experience is the best teacher, figuring this out will also require some trial and error. If you find yourself procrastinating or doing more socializing than studying when you’re with friends at Frost, that is okay, just make sure you note that and work on rebalancing your schedule slowly by slowly. Do not expect change overnight, be patient with yourself—and if you need help maintaining that balance, it is totally okay to ask a friend to help keep you accountable. 


  • Keep your course load balanced. 
  • Know the intensity of your course offerings, and choose accordingly. How do you do this? Your academic advisor. They are there to guide you. You are new, so you are not expected to know how hard multivariable calc is going to be; your academic advisor, however, will, so work closely with them. I personally advise including one class that is relaxing:  a class that feels more like a hobby than a requirement. DO NOT try to play it “smart” by rushing to complete your major requirements. Yes, you will end up finishing them early, but at what cost? In other words, make sure your classes aren’t too much to handle, but don’t sell yourself short by only taking classes that feel easy for you.


  • Amherst is a big-small school. 
  • Amherst College can feel big to some and small to others. When Amherst life feels too big for me, I’ve found it helpful to divide my experience up into specific spots and people and memories, so that I can process things in more manageable chunks. This exercise also, I think, helps you explore Amherst at a manageable pace; allowing you to engage with Amherst life more deeply and intentionally, and to find the spaces and places which give you comfort. When campus starts feeling too manageable or uncomfortably small, explore. Trust me, you have so much more to discover: new dorms, routes, clubs, trails, etc. You are never going to run out of new things to find.


These are just six of many other things I wish I knew—I might end up writing Part II later. As a reminder, this is my experience, so it is okay if you don’t relate to anything I’ve said. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. There is no one “right” way to live life at Amherst, so above all, make sure to have YOUR ideal experience and not someone else’s. You’re the VIP!