Ilesia Finch was just 14 years old when she boarded her flight to America alone. Destination: Brooklyn.
Her parents sent her to live with her older sister, hoping she'd get a better education here than in her home country of Saint Kitts.
"It was very scary because when I first came to America, I actually got lost," said Finch, a senior at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice.
Finch said the transition was tough: she had a hard time finding her way around and said she was teased for her accent. Quickly, she found comfort in her teachers and new friends at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice. She has excelled, scoring As in all of her classes, making the honor roll, and never missing a day of school. She also took part in a study abroad program in India, where she immersed herself in the culture for six weeks while teaching others English.
"What I learned about myself is that, Ilesia, you can adapt to any and every environment," Finch said. "It's what you make of it."
You can't go there with a closed mind, you have to go in with an open mind and just be ready to learn new things, be ready to feel uncomfortable, even," Finch added.
Although she is 1,700 miles away from Saint Kitts, one thing that makes Finch feel like she's back home is soccer, a sport she has played since she was a little girl.
"I enjoy watching it just as much as I enjoy playing it," Finch said. "It's very competitive."
The Urban Assembly girls' soccer team had only just formed during Finch's sophomore year. With a team full of inexperienced players, Finch's coach said her advanced skillset was key in helping others grow in the sport.
"The girls on the team, as soon as they saw her touch the ball, they were like, 'Oh, she knows what's going on, she knows what to do,'" said Carly Lyster, Finch's soccer coach. "It kind of automatically put her in this leadership role."
Finch says that's a role she's happy to take on and hopes others find inspiration in her story.
"Once you really believe that you can achieve something … regardless of the barriers and everything," Finch said. "if you really believe you can do it, just do it, just go for it."
So, for kicking past obstacles and turning them into opportunities, Ilesia Finch is NY1's Scholar Athlete of the Week.
The Spectrum News NY1 Scholar Athlete Program recognizes exceptional public high school student athletes with academic scholarship awards of $1,000 each for use towards college expenses. Nominees must be high school seniors enrolled at public high schools within the five boroughs of New York City in order to be considered.
If you are a public school coach, teacher, administrator or school counselor who would like to nominate a student athlete who excels both in the classroom and on the court, click here to fill out a nomination form.