Before an athlete, I’ve always been primarily a student. I was raised in a household in which education was seen as the catalyst to propel me to success. My mother worked two jobs while simultaneously attending school after her arrival in the United States. In the hopes of assuring a greater future for her child, my mother sacrificed her aspirations to bring me to the United States.

In the summer of 2010, I arrived in the United States with a curious mind and a brave heart. My mother enrolled me in a public school in the Bronx. The American education system was in no doubt superior to what I received back in Senegal. I was challenged to learn in the classroom in a foreign language, forced to speak English in discomfort to my peers and my teachers. However, I took on this obstacle with open arms. Within three months, I was able to communicate fluently in English with a heavy African accent.

Despite my improvements in school and the better education, I was limited to exploring my full identity. Playing soccer was part of my identity. Since a young age, I had a great passion for the beautiful game. I grew up playing on the concrete streets of Dakar. I spent hours upon hours at a time maneuvering ways to create a soccer ball from rocks to bottles to bottle caps. My imagination was limitless when trying to bring the game to life. I come from a place where kids took old shirts to draw their names and numbers on the back just to have a sense of individuality. Where kids took big rocks or old shoes to be used for goal posts, where the concrete streets were seen as a stadium. This was all done to mimic what we’ve seen on television.

As a country, I was aware that the United States was not a soccer country. There was a lack of interest in the sport from my friends at the school I attended. Although I was getting a better education by moving to the United States, I lost soccer my chance to explore my passion for the game.

Thankfully, with two years in the country, I was able to find South Bronx United. SBU was able to fulfill my wish to have the best of both of worlds. I was receiving a better education just as my mom had hoped for and playing soccer. Truthfully, SBU was more than a team I played for. My teammates were a family and each individual a brother. The field we practiced on was a home, a sanctuary from the world outside, from all the external pressures inhibiting our potential.

Minkael is a rising senior at Northfield Mount Hermon, a boarding school in Massachusetts. This is the first blog entry in a series he will share over the next month.