Willy Carvajal, of Costa Rica, is in the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Majoring in Law at the University of Mississippi
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Costa Rica, I decided to apply for the Global Undergrad Program and to study in the United States for one year. I wanted to improve my English skills, get access to new sources of information and education, and to experience living in the US.
How did you choose your intensive English program? Please mention such factors as location, reputation, special programs offered. What attracted you to your particular school? Why is it a special place?
The US Embassy in Costa Rica, together with the Global Undergrad Program, chose the location of my intensive English program. Back then (2009), my English skills were not sufficient, and this is probably the reason why they sent me to the University of Mississippi for one year.
What do you like best about studying here?
It was my first time living abroad together with people of my age from all over the world. I made such amazing friends whose friendship remain nowadays. I enjoyed all the American celebrations very much, sharing food with people from different cultures, and realizing the cultural differences while making new friends. This opportunity marked my future in this regard.
What do you miss most about home?
The most challenging aspect was the food. In the beginning, my friends and I were very happy about all the different options at the cafeteria; however, after a while, it became an "issue" for us.
How long have you been studying here? How has your English improved? How has this program helped you to handle future study at a U.S. university?
I studied for one year in the US, and my English skills were significantly improved. This opportunity gave access to a better job in Costa Rica, and it has been very useful to study in other places around the world.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
I did not use to have classes with a lot of people; for instance, I remember having a class together with more than 75 people. I was also very amazed by the significant number of foreigners living and studying in the US.
... your biggest disappointment?
Discrimination against people of color and other minorities. I remember being in a pool with black people on one side, white people on the other, and maybe other minorities (such as Latinos) in a different place. I also remember that it was a big issue if a white girl was dating a black guy. That was the first time in my life that I actually thought about it all.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
I believe the biggest challenge was not the language itself, but the cultural differences while approaching people. Different cultures mean different views and values in a set of matters such as personal space, friendship, religion, family, politics, future, so forth. It is important to be respectful and careful to do not offend others.
I was granted a full scholarship from the US State Department for which my finances were in a healthy condition. This was also the first time that I had a fixed monthly income for which I had to use it in a proper manner in order to reach next month with some savings.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
In my case, the adjustment was very well treated by the people working in the Intensive English Program at the University of Mississippi. I had a proper time before starting classes to improve my language skills and to learn from the educational system; in general, the adjustment was not difficult.
What are your activities (clubs, sports, student associations, travel, homestay programs, special activities, or trips sponsored by your Intensive English Program)?
We had a lot of activities such as trips to other States and cities, for instance, Alabama, Memphis, and Chicago. Furthermore, it was very common to celebrate and to learn from holidays or other celebrations from all over the world. Food was always an important social element.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
In my case, it was not very difficult to make new friends, although most of them were also foreigners. I also had the chance to meet American people throughout my roommates and classmates.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
Currently, I have different goals, such as creating a non-profit organization related to transparency and the information society. Furthermore, I want to create my own business and job opportunities in my country. At some point, I also want to get involved in politics, and to introduce significant transformations in Costa Rica.
Studying in the US gave me a set of skills to interact and to work with people from different backgrounds using the English language. It also gave me the chance to later apply to other educational experiences in different countries such as China, Chile, and Israel.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying English in the USA?
First, take advantage of this amazing opportunity and to enjoy it the most. Second, be open-minded to meeting people who may think very different from you. Third, be willing to meet people from different places who share similar values and they may become friends for the rest of your life. Finally, be prepared to know yourself better, and for a change in your vision about the world and your future.
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