Carissa Pickett: Her Journey from Africa to Oklahoma

Written By: Emma D. Baldwin

Carissa Pickett, a student who ventured to Bartlesville from Xai-Xai in Mozambique, Africa, is one of the many students OKWU has drawn from outside Oklahoma. Born in South Africa and moving roughly ten times in the continent, Carissa eventually decided on a college, braving the journey out to Oklahoma.

In comparing Oklahoma to her own culture, she said America is “very individualistic” and “time-oriented.” She continued, “We’re used to community orientation where it’s more about what’s good for the community rather than what’s good for yourself. And time is just that. We say we go by African time,” meaning she lives in a culture in which people are much more flexible, less reliant on exact time, and more willing to sacrifice time to invest in and help others.

On top of many other changes in moving to America, Carissa also had to adjust her language from Portuguese to English. She relayed the memory of sitting and speaking Portuguese with the maid in her house, saying how much she missed having conversations in the language of her home and the people she loves.

Carissa described what an average church service looks like for her congregation in Xai-Xai: “When I was younger, there were some churches that were made completely out of metal. If the sun hit that thing, you were dead. You were a roasted chicken. You’d be sitting there going, ‘How long is this service?’ because we don’t have [typical] American services. We have three-hour services because we’ve got music, and then we have the translation of the sermon. So, you have an hour-long sermon, not because the sermon itself is an hour, but because you have the translation and sometimes, you’ll have to translate it in two, three, [or] four languages, depending on where you’re living.”

She described “district services,” during which each church comes up and sings about five songs, each lasting about four to five minutes. She explained how the different sections within the service had competitions to see who could produce the greater offering. She explained the contrast between American services and their services, expressing how they dance during worship, dancing up the aisles to the offering plate, whereas Americans would view this as “shocking.”

She also told me how some less wealthy congregations resort to building churches out of the mud (and termite spit) found in termite mounds and putting thatch on the roof. Winters in these churches mean bundling up and touching it out, even though some members of the congregation are not able to afford a winter coat. However, this could mean rebuilding their church every winter, which her family helps with. Carissa said, “It’s always special when they can have a cement building church. You have no idea how grateful they are to have that because it means that every year, they can have a church that stands, and they don’t have to rebuild it.” In asking Carissa what brought her to OKWU, she explained how her family was visiting some friends who convinced them to visit the college on their way to the Grand Canyon. Though initially hesitant, after touring the school, she told her parents, “This is where I’m going,” explaining how she felt “a peace” about it. Her parents convinced her to tour other schools, seeing as OKWU was her first college to visit. However, even after visiting the other options, she still knew she wanted to come to OKWU.

Now that she is here, she said she likes it “because it is such a small community. I can know so many people on campus and feel like I know the entire world.” She also praised the compactness of campus, grateful that she does not have to make long tracks in the winter since she is not used to very cold weather (Xai-Xai drops to a balmy climate of about fifty-five degrees in the winter).

When asked what God has shown her in college, Carissa responded, “One of the main things is just trusting that He’s got it. Because I don’t have my family even within a couple hours, let alone the same country as me, and because I don’t have a driver’s license, I’ve had to find connections. I’ve had to reach out of my comfort zone and be like ‘I need help. Can you please help me?’ That is not who I am. I don’t like to ask for help. I like to gung-ho it and be in control.”

A quote that inspires her is from the movie Facing the Giants: “The Lord opens doors that no one can shut and He shuts doors that no one can open. You have an open door here still, and, until God shuts it, you are to remain here and bloom where you are planted.”

She said, “One of the most challenging things, apart from just figuring out the cultural differences, is probably just being so far away from what I consider home– especially since it’s a different culture, different way of life, nobody really speaks my second language, and so there are times when I’m like, ‘I just need to listen to Mozambican news. I just need to listen to South African news. I just need to hear accents that I’m used to’…I need to hear it so I feel like there’s a part of me that’s home.” She also explained that she wishes she could visit home to get a second burst of enthusiasm to finish strong in school.

Despite the difficult transition to America, Carissa has still retained her fun personality. She loves going to the beach. She is a pro at Bananagrams, and dominates against her family every time. She also enjoys playing games with people in general. She explained, “It helps me learn more about people. You can study people— how they strategize is another way of showing their personality, and playing games teaches me how to interact with them. I just observe. I’m a strange person, but I like to observe people.”

Carissa is studying Elementary Education. She hopes to teach second graders in a school that unashamedly teaches the Bible. Because of the influence of her parents and their missionary occupations, she said, “I am constantly surrounded by the Bible. It is so much a part of who I am.” She hopes to make the stories so common in the Bible well known to all children, showing the significance in God’s Word.

Being from a different culture has given Carissa many unique experiences. She shared with me a story of how she went on a night time safari trip with her dad, when their car broke down in the Mozambican wilderness. She has had an opportunity to eat many strange things, including cactus, alligator, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, kudo, and possibly even giraffe.

Overall, Carissa says, “Life changes, but God stays constant.” Getting to know Carissa more was such a joy, and I am so thankful that God has brought her here to OKWU and so excited to see what incredible things He has in store for her future.