by Paula M. Davis
“Great performance this weekend,” a staff member paused to praise Samuel Amoabeng ’12 as the two passed each other at the Hicks Student Center.
Flashing an appreciative grin, Amoabeng acknowledged the compliment for his latest performance dancing and playing piano at a variety show on campus, then hurried to his next appointment.
As usual, it was a day crowded with activities, the way Amoabeng liked to operate on K’s campus, a place that offered him a lot more than he expected when he arrived four years ago.
In many ways Amoabeng’s life is an exemplar of motion, of boundary crossing, and of bustle. In fact, border crossings—both cultural and country—are routine for this young man of Ghanaian descent who was born and raised in Japan and came alone to the United States in the 10th grade for schooling. At that time he spoke Japanese and only a little English.
Later, on the Kalamazoo College campus, the 23-year-old business major moved fluidly on stage as a talented dancer and choreographer. As a tennis player, he bounced between lines on K’s courts, and his fingers danced on piano keyboards, accompanying other student musicians or playing solo. He earned his degree in business and studied abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
“He’s so talented, it’s incredible,” said Amoabeng’s faculty advisor of four years, Professor of Economics Ahmed Hussen.
Though with that talent and the desire to “do it all”, it was no easy task convincing Amoabeng that there was virtue in not spreading himself too thin in college.
Advisor and advisee sometimes butt heads over that.
The professor “is always making sure I’m not overdoing myself and that I am getting enough sleep,” Samuel said.
“It was a real challenge,” Hussen confirmed. “Sometimes I didn’t feel I was being heard, but he did hear me. He just does things so well, and people know that, and so they want him to be a part of projects and performances.”
And Amoabeng wants to be in the mix too. He said he has an aversion to the banal, loves exploring, and is just plain curious.
“I always like challenging new things, putting myself in an uncomfortable situation and working my way around it,” he said.
For instance, curious about the reputed antagonism that can exist in dorms between resident advisors (RA) and other dorm dwellers, Amoabeng became an RA in Hoben Hall his sophomore year.
“I wanted to see what it was like to be on the side when people don’t like you,” he says. “But then I ended up being really cool with my residents.” He attributes this good relationship to a commitment to be a “tool and resource” for students who lived in the hall.
That episode of Amoabeng’s college career was not unlike the arc of his overall experience at K. That, too, didn’t turn out as it could have or as he expected.
Samuel’s plan was to major in business and play tennis. Both happened, but he didn’t count on falling in love with dance and choreography.
During his freshman year, an RA introduced him to Frelon, a student-run dance company on campus.
He hadn’t danced much before college but once introduced to the energy and creativity of Salsa and Hip-Hop, Amoabeng said “I really got into it.
“I really love performing, creating performances and teaching. I could easily see myself choreographing, doing music arrangement on the piano and keyboard, and teaching Japanese,” he said.
How to bundle those interests into a ready career Amoabeng hasn’t yet determined, and he’s not sure that his family, who invested so much financially and otherwise, would support that.
“Dance is a big part of Ghanaian culture, but it shouldn’t get in the way of academics. It should not be something that you pursue in college,” he said.
“My family has always known that I like doing haphazard things, but I think they expected that I would settle down and just focus on one thing. But I’m still expanding. They’re almost afraid that I will not be able to settle in one place,” he says.
Amoabeng came to the United States at the urging of his parents when he was a young teen. Business opportunities led the Amoabeng family to move from Ghana to Japan before Samuel was born, but when an opportunity to migrate to the U.S. arose for Samuel, his father supported the idea and encouraged his son.
Amoabeng says that in Japan there’s a notion that the U.S. is something like utopia. “It’s partly fantasy and partly ignorance, but the sound of it was very enticing. So
"I like putting myself in an uncomfortable situation."I didn’t refuse that offer,” Amoabeng says.
His parents remained in Japan, but starting in his 10th grade year, Amoabeng attended school in North Carolina at Charlotte Country Day, a private prep school that takes pride in its international studies program and its English as a Second Language offerings. There, he learned how to speak English and about American culture.
Amoabeng discovered that the culture of the southern United States contrasted with home in a variety of ways. He grew up in Tokyo, and Charlotte was a tiny community in comparison. And unlike his Japanese schooling where memorization was prized, his U.S. education put a greater emphasis on thinking creatively.
When it came time for his next educational adventure Amoabeng learned about Kalamazoo College through a recruiter. An advisor at Country Day confirmed it was a solid institution, and an invitation to campus clinched the deal. Of all the campuses he visited, only K seemed to fit.
And the K experience, according to Amoabeng, turned out to be life-changing. “The college shaped me in a very unexpected way I think. It’s like a mixture of academics, then friendships, and then the extracurricular,” he says.
Now that his time as a K student has ended, Amoabeng is looking for a job in the U.S. where he can use Japanese and English in business.
But that search is not the only thing keeping him occupied. He’s also working in the College’s tennis program, teaching tennis, giving private lessons in Japanese, and assisting with a professor’s research. And he plans to continue developing his artistic self.
While in high school Amoabeng thought that a career in a large corporation awaited him following college. Now he’s not so sure.
Future plans include traveling around the world, continuing to explore other countries and cultures. That’s been his way of life so far.
“I have a very unique way of looking at things because of my multicultural background,” says Samuel. “I’m not limited to seeing one thing from one angle, and that’s really helped me a lot.”
Photo 1 - Samuel Amoabeng picks grapes in a vineyard in France, where he studied abroad.
Photo 2 - Samuel (left) enjoys a class of wine during study abroad.
Photo 3 - Samuel dances in the annual Frelon concert.