Three Continents, Fours Languages, One Passion: a Life Shaped By Soccer


Courtesy of Bryan Abunaw

Bryan Abunaw with his family in Douala, Cameroon, January 2020.

Ibrahim Aksoy, Contributing Writer

Stands in the Anfield Road were filled with thousands of fans for the upcoming Merseyside Derby. Life in the city of Liverpool stopped and you could only hear the pouring rain along with fans in the Kop. Meanwhile, a soccer fan from West Africa followed the game with his full heart.

Bryan Abunaw, senior communications major at Pace University and an international student from Cameroon, has lived in different cultures and spoken four different languages. Yet, it was only one sport that could be played in three different continents, which in the end would haunt him in the Empire State.

“I applied and my school recruited me to play soccer,” Abunaw describes how his soccer talents brought him to the United States. His American journey started in Princeton, N.J. when he was a junior high school student.

Abunaw, second from left, with Pace men’s soccer team in 2018. (Courtesy of Bryan Abunaw)

Despite having spent time as an international student in the United States, Abunaw did not know much about college life and applications. With the help of his academic advisor, who had connections with Pace admissions department, he received his acceptance letter from Pace University.

The location of a city atmosphere played an important role in his university decision.

“I always wanted to live in New York since I was younger. I went down to New York and saw the campus and it was amazing,” said Abunaw.

However, Abunaw’s New York City adventure did not last as it was not possible to be on the soccer team since Pace’s NYC campus does not host student athletes. In his second semester of freshman year, Abunaw moved to the north and became a Pleasantville campus resident.

Reunited with American suburbs after a short city life, he returned to the soccer pitch and played for Pace men’s soccer team until his junior year.

The College Senior was born into soccer and raised with legendary Cameroonian soccer stars such as Samuel Eto’o, who won the Champions League trophy thrice and played for Cameroon national team.

“Definitely my all time favorite Cameroonian soccer player is Samuel Eto’o,” Abunaw said. “He played with Ronaldinho in Barcelona and then with Kaka in Inter Milan.”

Watching Eto’o and the West African nation in the World Cup connected him to his home country. During long holidays like Christmas, he used to go to Cameroon with his sister who is a senior finance major at Fordham University.

Abunaw with his mother in Douala, Cameroon, January 2020. (Courtesy of Bryan Abunaw)

Abunaw made his last visit to Cameroon in December 2019. He celebrated Christmas with his family and only a few months upon his return to the United States, the pandemic forced Pace to switch to remote learning. The shift has significantly affected international students on many issues: travel bans, visa expirations, lack of employment opportunities and so on.

“Even before COVID, not every company offered visas and now with COVID being in place, more companies are not offering visa sponsorships,” said Abunaw.

He describes how difficult it has become for international students to find a full time position and work legally in the United States.

“This is hurting the international student community because we spend all these years all this money in American schools so that we can get an American job,” said Abunaw.

Being a native French speaker, Abunaw is now interning at Wish as a social media and marketing intern for their French office and hoping to turn that into a full time position. In addition to his plans to work in the United States through Optical Practical Training (OPT), a program that allows international students to legally work in the United States for one year, he is planning to move to Ghana or South Africa where job opportunities are higher for students with American university degrees.

“If I don’t get a job in America, my plan is to move to Ghana or South Africa and work for MTN, Africa’s largest mobile cell phone network, and work in their marketing department,” he explained.

Abunaw with his sister after a soccer game in 2019. (Courtesy of Bryan Abunaw)

Despite having been affected by negative events caused by Covid-19 pandemic as an international student, Abunaw thinks the past year has given him time to explore himself and his capabilities.

“It messed up a lot of plans, we lost the social connection we had,” Abunaw continued. “But for me, it has given me time to look into myself and grow myself personally. It has kept me focused since everybody is home and I don’t have that campus distraction.”

Overall simplicity, warm weather, and food are the main things he most misses about his country. “I don’t know how you could put this in class terms, I would say simple living. Everybody is just so simple and I miss being in that environment.”