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What it’s like to be an International Student

I’m 1,534 miles away from home, but it was my choice. I’m Dominican, and yes, I came all the way from home to study abroad. Yes, I’m by myself and most of my family and friends are still there. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of coming to the United States and graduating from College. More specifically, I wanted to study in the city of dreams, the city that never sleeps, aka New York City. And here I am, a little bit further than I had planned, but still in New York.

I can’t say that there is culture shock that has affected me, and this may be due to the fact that growing up I was at an American school where I learned the language, the history, the culture, etc. Most of the time people are very nice, but something that differentiates Americans from what I’m used to is their independence, and I respect that. Nevertheless, something that was hard for me to change had to do with the way that people greet each other here. I am so used to say “hello” to people by kissing them on their cheeks, but here people shake hands and you get a feeling that they want their personal space. And since I never wanted to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I gave up that part of my culture. Between you and me, I have OCD so I cringe every time I have to be polite and shake people’s hands. Not fun, because who knows where their hands have been…

As I mentioned before, people are mainly very welcoming, but there are times when this is not the case. I’ve had unfortunate experiences; once I was walking around Time Square with a group of friends and people heard us speaking Spanish and yelled “you Mexicans go back to your country”. First of all, that’s very disrespectful, and second of all, not everyone that speaks Spanish is Mexican. I’m not going to lie, this made me upset, because even though people from other counties (including mine) come and do wrongful things, but that doesn’t mean that we can generalize and assume that everyone is the same.

One would think that people have knowledge and backgrounds of a few cultures, but they really don’t. Still in 2018 I get asked, some bizarre questions like: “what do you eat? What, you have McDonalds in the DR? How do you speak English so well? Do you live in Punta Cana? You look too white to be Dominican, are you sure that you aren’t mixed?” It is scary to think that people still ask these questions, but trust me, I hear them all the time.

At this point you are probably wondering why I’m still here if I get upset because of these things, but there’s a lot more to it. I’ve learned so much and continue to grow everyday. I’ll admit that I’ve gained a profusely amount of independence, and I’ve also learned how to take care of myself. For example, I wasn’t used to doing my laundry, or figuring out what I was going to eat next. I took so much of my culture for granted, but don’t worry I stepped up my game. I have become very self-sufficient; I do things on my own that I wasn’t even aware that I was capable of doing. Mom and Dad aren’t there anymore to fix all my problems; it is now up to me. I can call them if I ever need guidance, but I’m the one in charge of making my own decisions and to be honest, this is a lot harder than I thought. I have to figure out what is good for me, and what is not. I have to keep myself safe and make sure I don’t do something stupid that I wont be able to handle.  I am so much braver and fiercer than I was. I mean, I was never a quiet, shy person, but now I literally have no shell to break out from. I can talk to anyone without being scared of what they will think. I have a lot more confidence in myself than I had before I came to Pace. I discovered who I am, and what I like or dislike. I fight for my opinions and I stand by them. I learned how to use my voice and formulate my arguments in a way that is much more powerful than they used to be, I swear, I can be a lawyer now.

I’ve learned to be more accepting, not everyone has the same sexual preference, ethnicity/race, or political views and that doesn’t have to influence whether I like them or not. Being open minded and stepping away from biases has helped me develop bonds with people I never would’ve talked to before I came here.

A lot of people ask me how I made friends. Well, I wanted to have the full American experience, so I went ahead and joined a sorority. I found a new family, a home away from home. But I understand how this is not everyone’s go to, and its okay. I would recommend everyone to join clubs, to stay engaged and active in their campuses, and to attend as many events as they possibly can. But most importantly, be prepared and have an open mind, because if you don’t step a little bit out of your comfort zone in college, how do you plan to meet people? Roommates are the first friends you make, but you don’t always get along with them, and this is fine too, I mean it’s a total stranger who you are living with and I solute you, you have no idea how brave you are.

Being totally honest, living as an international student can get very lonely sometimes. I see my friends’ stories on Instagram or Snapchat, and I wish I were there with them. Or sometimes I want to hug my loved ones, and that is just not an option. It is hard, very hard, but it is been worth it.

Being an international student has been a rollercoaster ride, but it has been the best ride of my life. Whenever I go back home I’m more conscious of the little things that actually matter. I appreciate my family more, and the hard work and effort that my parents are doing to make sure that I stay here. I’m also grateful for my friends and their support, because nothing ever changes when I go back to them, it feels life if I never left. I can’t wait to go back home with all of my new experiences, opportunities and memories and recognize how proud I am of myself. This is by far one of my biggest accomplishments and I’ve done this with the purpose of having a better future. I want to make a change in my country, but for me to do so; I have to be the change. As you can see, going away for college has expanded my views on everything and made me much stronger. I can’t wait to go back home, but in the meantime, catch me playing in the snow!

Isabella Sanchez

Pace Pleasantville

Isabella is a passionate and opinionated sophomore majoring in Applied Psych and minoring in Entrepreneurship. She is bilingual and drags her latin vibes everywhere she goes.
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