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How a Jamaican theatre major beat adversity to study in the US

College of Albemarle
Lewis beat many odds to pursue his passion. Source: Michael Lewis

Jamaican native and College of Albemarle student Michael Lewis is a determined man. When he was in sixth grade, his teacher discovered his talent for theatre and encouraged him to enter his first Jamaica Cultural Development Commission competition. It would be the first of his many victories on the national and global stage.

In high school, he represented Jamaica at the World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood. This won him a full scholarship to attend the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. He neither had the funds to follow this through, nor the blessing of his parents.

Still, his resolve never wavered. He continued his high school education in the Caribbean where he received the highest grade in theatre arts on the island which led to another scholarship. As it was a partial scholarship, he was not financially able to pursue this either. 

Performers participate in ‘We Will Be Back’, a live pop-up event and commemoration of Broadway’s ‘lost year’ at Time Square on March 12, 2021 in New York City. Source: Angela Weiss/AFP

Then, Lewis struck luck. Someone from a prominent American entertainment company who had followed his journey anonymously offered to pay his tuition fees to attend the University of the West Indies. He did and graduated.

Determined to continue thriving, he applied to the College of Albemarle and has hopes to pursue a PhD in Theatre and Performance Theory to become an entrepreneur and lecturer. He maintains a 4.0 GPA and excels at everything he does. Although performing arts was something that didn’t come easily accepted by his parents, his accolades have shown his family he can succeed.

Nominated by the college, he is now part of the largest honour society in the US: the National Society of Leadership and Success where he was selected on academic standing and leadership potential. Through this, he gets lifelong access to exclusive scholarships, leadership and academic training with the likes of Trevor Noah, and networking opportunities to name a few. 

Lewis has recently published his first book “Bank on Self-Investment: Belief Deposited — Triumph Withdrawn (A Stimulus Check for One’s Self)”. It documents his self-growth and development. This book is sold to Jamaicans and some high schools at a discounted rate. 

Below we talk to this 27-year old Jamaican student about his educational experience abroad and how it’s led to a path of success:

Why did you choose to pursue fine arts at the College of Albemarle?

I decided to take a few steps back on my educational journey to pursue an Associate in Fine Arts in Theatre at the College of Albemarle after completing my MA in Cultural Studies in Jamaica. This is because I have always wanted to study theatre in the American context. 

My dream is to become a professional actor in the US. However, I chose to study this because of the institution’s meticulous theatre curriculum which allows students to learn both theoretical and practical sides of the multi-faceted dimensions of theatre. 

What are some of the challenges you faced coming to the US?

When I was trying to decide whether or not to venture to the US to pursue my dream of becoming an actor, the toughest challenge was the thought of having to cope with missing my family. I coordinated with my Students Services Advisor to schedule visits back to Jamaica. 

College of Albemarle

Lewis maintains a 4.0 GPA and excels at everything he does. Source: Michael Lewis

I also faced challenges getting my student visa. Since I already had a higher qualification than the associate degree I was enrolling in, I had to present a strong enough case to the US embassy consulate. The basis of my story was finding a safe space to study and practise my art. 

Tell us more about your plans to become an author and entrepreneur.

I plan on writing more self-help books, I am currently conceptualising my memoir. I also plan to start a company that caters to young adult’s everyday fashion trends. 

As a proclaimed cultural enthusiast, can you walk us through what that means?

I consider myself a cultural enthusiast because I am eager to learn more about other people’s cultures. I do this through interrogating and interacting with the cultural and creative industries. I am fascinated by much of what the world’s citizens have to offer artistically.

What advice do you have for students who are planning to study abroad?

Culture shock is real! Be sure to research not only the country but also the specific geographical locales in which the schools you plan to apply. Be knowledgeable of their cultural practices and time differences. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see myself with dual citizenship in Jamaica and the US. 

What’s one thing you miss from home and how do you substitute it?

I miss Jamaican cuisine. However, there are Caribbean markets that sell Jamaican seasonings, among other items, thankfully. I am able to purchase my Grace Coconut Milk Powder from my local supermarket to whip up a tasty dish that includes authentic Jamaican Rice and Peas.