Editor’s Note: As Commencement nears, WVUToday will occasionally feature some of the University’s most dedicated graduates. Here is the story of one of those outstanding students.
For six years, Nicholas Amos embraced all the diversity that Morgantown and West Virginia University has to offer.
He danced in a Diwali show and earned the only standing ovation – from 800 people – in the campus Hindu festival’s history.
He sung his heart out at his favorite picnic table on Decker’s Creek Trail many times – his way of expressing thoughts, emotions and dreams.
He’s learned Christianity. And experienced life as a college student.
Amos even studied Arabic.
He’s lived life to its fullest since coming to campus from little, remote Sutton, W.Va., and in doing so has made an impact on the international student community at WVU.
Nine years ago, though, Amos wasn’t doing any dancing or singing. In fact, he rarely smiled or left his room. Most of his time was spent wondering how life could be so bad.
The darkness in the forest
In 2005, Amos moved to Braxton County, W.Va., from his hometown of Corona, Calif. in between San Diego and Los Angeles. In doing so, he went from one of the world’s most populated areas to a county smack dab in the middle of West Virginia with a population the size of a packed WVU Coliseum.
Amos lived in the woods, what he calls “the forest,” seven miles away from the nearest gas station. The quiet isolation was tough on him. He suffered from severe insomnia, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Amos spent most of his time locked in his bedroom.
For nine months, he stayed this way.
One night he made a decision – one that would truly define him. He chose not to commit suicide, knowing the impact it would have on those around him.
“You just can’t hide in your room your entire life,” he said. “Something had to change.”
Moving forward, faith restored
He changed. He was no longer locked in his room. The forest wasn’t as dark.
Amos, along with some friends, started a boy’s tennis team at his high school. He had learned to accept the quiet and solidarity of Braxton County and would ride his quad to a nearby river to swim and be with his own thoughts.
“Everything would eventually become OK,” he said.
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During his senior year of high school, he met two friends who shared their personal faiths and relationships with Jesus Christ, and ultimately, he began to follow Jesus Christ, as well. At the same time, things were coming together for him to be a WVU student, as he received the PROMISE and Mountaineer scholarships.
When he went to a church camp in between the summer of his senior year of high school and freshman year at WVU, he met a church minister from Morgantown who made his transition to the University as smooth as could be.
The minister, Tim Gray, helped him move into his Stalnaker Hall dorm room and begin to develop a community at WVU bound in faith. Amos still meets with Gray every Thursday.
“I learned to not identify myself by my accomplishments,” he said, “and that freed me up to come into my own personality, to be able to express my quirky side and to serve people because I cared and not for my personal benefit.”
If I was afraid of looking stupid because I didn't know about multiple cultures or of what people would be saying or thinking of me then I wouldn't have done those things.
— Nicholas Amos
The summer before his junior year at the University, Amos went on a mission trip to the Himalayas, his first trek outside of the U.S. For two months, he helped poor villages by delivering vegetable seeds and stretchers.
Because of the severe culture shock that he experienced when he moved to West Virginia years ago and his trip abroad in India, he found himself connecting with international students on campus much more often.
“When I came back, I had antennas for international students. Before I felt like I never saw them – I didn’t look for them. When I came back, I saw them everywhere,” he said. “Because I was a foreigner for those two months, I could sympathize with those people not having a home here and not understanding basic culture here; That gave me a strong motivation to make a home for them too and make them feel cared about and appreciated.”
When Amos came back, he began to invite a handful of international students over to his house, a shared duplex with five roommates, on Lorentz Street. Each Friday, they’d have four or five new international students over for dinner. During the semester, they’d pack up to 40 people into the house. They would have foods and music from all over the earth – a world of its own sitting atop a hill overlooking the downtown campus.
“So many people would come and say ‘this house is different’ or ‘I’ve never been in an atmosphere like this in Morgantown,’” Amos recalled. “They would say that they felt lonely before, but because of this they felt better and learned to love Morgantown and West Virginia.”
Soon after, Amos and his friend Brittany Ratcliff became resident assistants at the International House. Two years later, that position has been host to some of his most cherished memories at WVU.
Seeking out new cultures
Amos’ interests in other cultures only grew by the day once he was immersed in the atmosphere of the International House. Most of his friends at WVU, he admits, are from outside the U.S. If you see him in the Mountainlair, he’ll probably be amongst a crowd who looks nothing like him.
After attending many International Student Organization events, his curiosity grew toward the Arabic language. He had heard little good about the culture due to what he considers ignorance from the mainstream media, and some of his new friends from the Middle East challenged him, saying that he would never be able to pick up the language.
“I’m really impressed by them. They’re here in our country, speaking our language and making great efforts to be able to fit in and to build a life for themselves,” Amos said.
He proved his friends wrong in no time, adding Arabic to his long list of language knowledge; he’s fluent in English and proficient in Spanish, too, in part because of trips to Mexico and Chile.
Because he embraced it all – his religion, his friends, his new community at WVU – Amos became himself. That’s why he dances and sings now. That’s why he spends his time with the international community.
“If I was afraid of looking stupid because I didn’t know about multiple cultures or of what people would be saying or thinking of me then I wouldn’t have done those things,” he said. “Some people avoid doing what they feel like doing to not seem dumb, and if you do that you’re going to miss so many opportunities.
“I can honestly say without any regrets that I never did that at WVU.”
On the move to change the world
On May 5, Amos will make the trip back to California to drop his car off before heading to Nizwa, Oman, where he hopes to spend the near future. As a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship, he will travel there for two months and spend that time immersed in Omani culture.
He hopes to teach English and would love to work on diplomacy between the U.S. and Middle East after his Critical Language Scholarship experience.
For Amos, it’s a perfect scenario, because he had become close with so many Omani natives at WVU.
The community I have here and the deep relationships are so precious; it's honestly heartbreaking that I have to leave that.
— Nicholas Amos
He won’t be staying to walk across the stage at Commencement, but he believes it’s his time to leave – comparing his experience at WVU to a banana tree, in that if he doesn’t cut ties now, he and his former environment won’t be able to flourish.
Now when he sees someone on campus, he embraces them with the same vigor as all of his experiences at WVU, knowing he may never see them again.
“The community I have here and the deep relationships are so precious; it’s honestly heartbreaking that I have to leave that,” he said of leaving his church family.
He added, when talking about his future: “I know where I’m going, and it’s for the better. It’s my turn to try to give back. I want to do the same for my Omani friends as they did for me. I want to learn their culture and language and be able to share with their families the same way they have shared with mine.”
Story by Tony Dobies
Photos by Scott Lituchy
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