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What Does Being a Female Latin International Student in a Predominantly White University Look Like

By Katina Porras. 

I am a female Latin international student from Guatemala attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Wake Forest is known to be a predominantly white university. According to the Wake Forest Common Data Set for 2016-2017, there is a total of 1,306 freshman students, 916 which are White (non-Hispanic), and 91 Hispanic/Latino. Those numbers show people who have Hispanic backgrounds, but not necessarily those who have lived their entire life in a Latin American country. I am from Guatemala, born and raised, not one who has lived in the US, so I can potentially say that I am one of the four people who I have met in my freshman class who are what I call “true Latinos”, someone who has grown up and lived their whole life in a Latin American country. Being a Latina international student in a predominantly white university has taught me how cultural barriers affect social interactions of international students as well as the fact that there are different educational philosophies. There are also stereotypes which are always present and can be the factors that determine how society looks at an individual. 

Before I attended Wake Forest, I did not know there was such a small amount of Latinos studying here. This was not a problem to me because I thought that I didn’t have to be friends with Latinos in order to feel at home. Three months into my first semester, I realized how wrong I was. Being part of the Latino ingroup, groups of people that share the same characteristics and interests, is what makes me feel at home, safe and warm. Just listening to the sound of my native language, Spanish, is what makes the strange, familiar.

There is certainly a culture shock when it comes to moving from Guatemala to North Carolina. Starting with how we greet each other in Guatemala, people say hello to each other by giving a kiss on the cheek. In America, people say hello to each other by giving a hug or simply waving their hand. It is incredible to think how one simple act can define your culture or background, but it goes back to the fact that Hispanic cultures are much more close-knit and family oriented than American cultures, for the most part. This is a major reason  why it’s been hard for me to be an international student, because it has made me move away from my family and wait around for months until I see them again, not like regional students that are able to go home on the weekends. That same culture shock is what makes establishing connections more difficult for international students and why international students tend to form relationships with people who have their same background.

There are a lot of differences between Guatemalan schools and American schools, starting with the fact that in Guatemala, professors are much more on top of students than in America. Personally, this has been a positive factor for me because without the help of my American professors, I have become more responsible in keeping up with deadliness and studying by myself. I chose to be an international student because I was seeking greater academic opportunities than ones I would obtain if I would have studied back home. I also decided to be an international student not only in regards to academics but also because I wanted to grow as a person. Living alone makes you grow more rather than living in a household because one has to figure out how to solve problems by him/herself, it makes someone more independent and that is also how professors in Wake Forest make me feel, more independent.

It is not easy moving away from home, moving to another country and still managing to adapt in a place where people judge only because of stereotypes following your race and ethnicity. My time in college has shown me that there are difficulties establishing connections with people from different cultures, but it has also convinced me that it is possible to do so. Would it be easier if I would attend a university with more Hispanics? Or if people would not stare at me when I speak Spanish with my friends? There are many questions I ask myself everyday when it comes to analyzing how I interact with people who have different norms and beliefs than I do. However, I believe that those questions would all have an answer or would not have to be asked if stereotypes wouldn’t have a strong effect over how people look at me as they do right now, like a strange creature. Even though I sometimes feel like fish out of the water being a female international student in a predominantly white university, I would not change my decision in attending Wake Forest because of how this school has become home away from home. This is because how Wake Forest makes me feel like a human rather than just a number because of its intimate campus setting.

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