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

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 three of Her Campus UFL’s efforts to go beyond the statistics by looking in depth at the hardships and triumphs of international students. This three-part 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 faced once arriving to the United States. Feel free to read part one here and part two here.

Name: Clara Garcia

Age: 20

Country of Origin: Venezuela

Major: Telecommunication (on the news track)

Dressed in all white, they marched as one. They shouted chants for justice, for freedom and for hope. In May, thousands of Venezuelans marched peacefully through the streets of their crumbling country. It wasn’t their first march. Venezuela, in the eyes of some citizens, had slowly crumbled in all aspects crucial for a thriving country — economics, human rights and safety. This is the place University of Florida student Clara Garcia used to call home.

Moving to the United States is what ultimately led her to comprehend the reality of her country and its plague of injustice. When describing her childhood, the word “normal” was used, but somehow followed with recollections that just didn’t seem quite so.

“You lived in a constant state of fear that you didn’t realize was there until you came to another country and you step out of that plane and you realize: I can actually breathe, take out my phone. I don’t have to run to my car to avoid being killed, kidnapped or robbed,” Garcia said.

Her dreams of being a reporter seemed slim in her home country, where journalism is not a well-respected career and the media is completely run by the government. The violence is also a huge problem. Garcia has had both friends and family fall victim to the desperation of others, most commonly through robbery.

Fresh out of high school, she decided to embark on a new journey, and at just 17 years old, Garcia moved to Florida with her parent’s encouragement. For Garcia, moving to the United States was a breath of fresh air where opportunities seemed endless. Although many students experience a tough transition, Garcia’s aunt and uncle made it a lot easier. Upon her arrival in Florida, things went smoothly as she moved in with them before heading toward Gainesville.

“I was lucky. I was out of my country, but at the same time I was kind of close to home even though I wasn’t with my parents. I knew I could turn to someone if I needed to,” Garcia said.

Before her permanent transition, Garcia often traveled to the United States to visit some of her family that resides here. However, she emphasized that visiting the United States and moving here are two different beasts.

“You have this idea of what living in the States will be like, and then you come here and you realize, wait, it’s not like that,” she said.

Venezuela’s polarized government, which was ruled by famed dictator Hugo Chavez, led Garcia to view politicians in a way of good versus evil because of the country’s separation between “Chavistas” and “anti-Chavistas.” She was shocked to learn that government and politics here is not based entirely on the fight of good versus evil.

Lucky for Garcia, the language barrier was not completely anguishing, and she quickly learned English by watching television shows and movies and listening to music. Although she transitioned nicely, time is passing quickly, and she soon has to face the decision of whether she would like to stay in the United States or return to her home country after graduation.

“Because I was kind of forced to move out, you know I had my friends and my family, I loved the city where I lived in but it did not give me the opportunities I wanted. I wanted to move out, but at the same time I felt a responsibility to stay,” Garcia said.

Many of her friends are still in Venezuela and can be found with thousands of others marching in the streets and trying to regain their power to vote. As for hopes of returning, Garcia is remaining optimistic.

“I do want to become someone that can help rebuild my country. The country that I know it could be because I never got to live in that country. Ever since I can remember, Venezuela has been a mess, and it’s just been going in decline since then. I want to help build the country my parents remember,” she said. She’s referring to the Venezuela that was once booming with opportunity and whose economy succeeded during several years.

For this international student, the toughest part of studying far from home has been found in the realization that people change. She admitted to having an expectation that friends and family would remain the same, and she found that maintaining some relationships is just unrealistic.

“You changed, and they changed. And you miss a part of that, but now you’re different people, and you can’t go back. You have to live a life enjoying the present,” Garcia said.

Garcia has found comfort in the warmness of the Hispanic community, whether Venezuelan or not. She’s found that whether it’s a bond over language, food or sharing the same values, it’s comforting to connect with others who are from the same background. She’s found this comfort on the UF campus.

“We are a culture that is very savvy, and we are hard workers,” Garcia said.

Garcia is currently a reporter for both WUFT and WUFT-Noticias, and she hopes to stay in the journalism field for years to come.

This has been our final piece of our international student series Far From Home: The Tales and Difficulties of International Students. We encourage our readers to engage in conversation with the international students around campus and to learn more by visiting UF’s International Center.

Photos courtesy of Clara Garcia