Far From Home: The Tales and Difficulties of International Students, Part One

This year, data obtained by SEVIS concluded that 1.13 million international students using academic and vocational visas are enrolled at nearly 8,979 schools in the United States. About 6,000 of these students are currently enrolled in the University of Florida. This article is part one of Her Campus UFL’s effort to go beyond the statistics by looking in-depth at the hardships and triumphs of international students. This series will highlight three women who attend the University of Florida and have the bravery to share their emotional, unique and compelling stories that involve complete separation from their families and the struggles they faced once they arrived in the United States.

Name: Victoria Isabel MolinaAge: 22Home country: HondurasMajor: journalism

On July 4,  2015, two motorcycles zoomed through the streets of Taulabé, Honduras, to catch up with local TV station owner, Joel Aquiles Torres, who was shot approximately 29 times as he traveled through the city. This is nothing new, at least not to journalism major Victoria Isabel Molina, who constantly heard about these horrors in Honduras almost her entire life.

“Don’t look at us! Don’t look at us, because if not, blood is going to run here!” are the words Molina remembers hearing at just 12 years old.  Everything seemed to be normal a few minutes earlier. Her mom was preparing to load Molina and her cousins in the family car for a trip to their grandma’s house when her mother realized she had forgotten her license inside. As she was getting out of the car, three men took advantage of an open gate and proceeded to break into their home.

With guns aimed toward them, the gunmen escorted the kids into the living room, as Victoria’s mom was being taken upstairs to be robbed of all her jewelry. The men were still screaming when the doorbell rang. It was the next-door neighbor, and the robbers panicked.

“My mom insisted that the men take the [family] car,” said Molina.

However, the robbers decided it would be a free-for-all, and Molina found herself sitting in the car in between two of the men. She could tell what was going through her mom's head — they were going to die. But, for unknown reasons, the robbers abandoned the vehicle at a haphazard part of the city. They were free.

Victoria always fantasized about being a journalist, but with the tensions in her country she knew that if she wanted to make her dreams a reality, it would have to be far from the place she called home.

In 2011, she moved to Gainesville, Florida, where she first attended Santa Fe College.

Her family stayed in Honduras, but they are fortunate enough to be able to live in a gated community where the dangers of the streets are blocked from the rest of the world, like concrete forts.

Coming alone to a foreign country proved to be a difficult transition for her. “At first, the loneliness was a shock,” Molina said. Although Honduras is plagued with violence, Molina longed for the warmness of the country as well as the hospitable people there. She recalls feeling isolated the first year in America. As much as she was happy to be studying her desired career, she didn’t adjust quickly.

“I really didn’t like it here. I didn’t like the people, they were very cold and distant and I hated the food — it didn’t taste real,” she said.

“The first two years were definitely the hardest, but I learned the value of work,” Molina said. Upon arriving, Molina went from having no job to working at Starbucks while juggling 12 credit hours. She quickly credited this experience as the factor that taught her the importance of work and time management.

She found that using her love of painting eased her stress. She had been formerly introduced to painting by a professor whose husband was an art teacher. Molina said she feels a sense of calmness when she paints, and it allows her to reflect a little bit of her soul with others.

For Molina, coming to the United States has been a positive decision. Just the freedom of walking around at night without fearing for her life is a huge stepping stone. When CBS News explored Honduras, they were able to witness the horrors of everyday life.

In one night they were able to see the bodies of two bus drivers who had been killed for refusing to pay a cut to gangs, a police officer murdered on a highway with a single shot to the head, and three people shot dead in a pool hall for what was described as the settling of a debt. In Honduras, many of the citizens blame the violence on the corrupt police force. Now, Molina is appreciative of law enforcement in the United States whom she says she can count on whenever anything unexpected happens.

The circumstances in her country and all of her experiences have inspired her to try to make a change in her home country. Although her plans after graduation include joining the Peace Corps and going to Ukraine, she hopes to one day return to her country and assist the youth.

“I want to make a difference. I’m an artist; I paint and I know Honduras has a lot of talent, and so I want to work with kids from marginalized communities and help them develop their interest in art,” Molina said.

Although she thought she’d never become accustomed to this country, she slowly has. Her journey at UF is not quite finished, but she’s preparing for the bright future ahead of her by learning Russian and serving as reporter for WUFT News. As for fellow international students, she reassures them that although it's tough, they will slowly learn to appreciate wherever they’re located, and that sometimes going to a foreign country is a tremendously rewarding and beneficial experience.

Photo credits: Victoria Molina