By Linda Vance Gordon
The Johnson City News & Neighbor
This is the fourth year since Chris Ochieng, a Milligan College senior and soccer standout, has been home for the holidays because home, where his parents and seven brothers and sisters live, is in Nairobi, Kenya.
That doesn’t mean Chris misses out on holiday feasts and fun, though. “I usually go home with friends for the holidays,” he says and he’s usually got several options of where he can spend the time. “I feel so lucky. I just have to choose who I’m going with. It’s been wonderful.”
“I always say the faculty and staff are among Milligan College’s greatest strengths,” compliments Kate Anderson, Milligan’s director of residence life and housing. Milligan College has an enrollment of about 1200, of which 600 live on campus. Milligan’s students come from 35 states and 15 different countries.
Many students just live too far away to get home for the holidays and there’s always a teacher, coach, staff member or student who extends an invitation to share their celebration. Chris has been hosted by families in North Carolina and Chattanooga over the years.
Chris stays in touch with his family through telephone calls and Skype visits. During Christmas when his younger sisters are home from boarding school, he can visit with everyone at once.
The family’s holiday traditions include church on the 24th and 25th, he says, adding that afterwards the family gathers for a good meal and fellowship. Chicken, beef and rice will be on the menu. “Sweets are not a big part of the meal, except for the children,” he points out.
After the Christmas meal, they’ll play a game that to Chris looks like our baseball since they run bases but they use a smaller No. 3 soccer ball and don’t use a bat.
Presents are exchanged on Dec. 26th or Boxing Day. And, the family shares one large communal stocking filled with cards, perhaps money and small gifts.
By the way, Santa comes down the chimney in Nairobi just like he does here. However, on his 16th birthday he really, really wanted new soccer cleats and he didn’t get them. His favorite Christmas present of all time was a remote controlled police car.
And, yes, his family will have a Christmas tree and it will be an evergreen. They travel to a special greenhouse about two hours from their home to get the tree, which is then decorated with lights. The lighted tree and balloons on the ceiling are what Chris remembers about his family’s holiday decorations.
Oh, by the way, if you wish someone Happy Christmas in Swahili, that would be Krismasi njema. Among Chris’s favorite things about holidays in the States are food and gifts. Thanksgiving is a new celebration for him and he really enjoys turkey and all the trimmings.
“Some of the foods I don’t even know the names, but it’s all good,” he says with a smile.
Chris was initially recruited to play soccer for Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky but found that the school’s location was too remote for him. He contacted friends to let them know he’d like to transfer to a school in a more urban environment. A Milligan College alumnus asked him to visit his alma mater and see if he liked the school. He did and it’s been a great move. “It’s been very welcoming,” says Chris. “It’s a nice place to be and they help you be a better person.”
He’s a biology major who is looking at pharmacy schools in Oklahoma and Texas for his post-graduate education. Hopefully he can make the long trek home either before or during graduate school, he says.
While at Milligan, he’s been named the Appalachian Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner. He recorded 17 total goals on the season, which ranked him 20th nationally. The senior also recorded six game winning goals, which ranks him 5th nationally. In addition to his Player of the Year award, he was named to the AAC All-Conference first team.