Isabela of Brazil is majoring in International Relations at Kalamazoo Valley Community College
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I was an exchange student in high school in Michigan, so I decided to return for college. The university system in Brazil is different. Each program has only a few spots, and there is a national test for the public schools, which are totally free. You take the test for two days, and you have to get a certain score. I tried for two years and went to a prep school, but I decided to come here.
Why did you choose this particular college or university? What attracted you about your school? Please mention such factors as location, reputation, courses offered. What is special about your school and its location?
I chose Kalamazoo Valley mostly because of the area. I live with my host family from High School. I really liked some of the classes they provided. I saw some of the small classrooms. I am used to small classes. For international students, it is really expensive, but it is cheaper here than to go straight to a 4-year institution.
What do you like best about your program or university?
I have really good professors here. We do presentations and talk about topics. My French professor is always talking to us in French.
I think the professors are really willing to help when you don’t understand something and teach you until you understand. They are willing to meet outside of the classroom hours because sometimes you don’t have enough time in class. You can go to office hours or schedule an appointment.
There are not just exams; you can do presentations for grades. For one class we have a lot of flexibility, not just something that is already set, I could do a presentation rather than a paper.
I like the space here at Kalamazoo Valley, it is not too big, but there are a lot of things- the library, and the gym are good.
What do you miss most about home?
My family, of course. It is really hard because flights are really expensive. I haven’t seen my family in a year, and I have to wait one more year. For me, it is not as hard because I have my host family. I kind of have a family here, so it feels like home, but it is not home.
It is really hard in the beginning, but after a few months I got used to it, and I try to enjoy it as much as I can.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
I think I was surprised that I could choose my classes. In Brazil, you have a fixed schedule. It was kind of cool because I picked really nice classes. Like last semester, I took women’s history. I took public speaking; it was really good; even though I am shy, I passed it. I am taking international relations next semester, and they have a few simulations in that class.
I don’t know if it is because I live in a small town, but there is not much public transportation. There is not a bus near my home.
I was really surprised that there were just cars here; it was a big difference. Technically I know how to drive, but here all the cars are automatic, so I had to learn how to drive automatics.
... your biggest disappointment?
I think the scholarships. It is really expensive to study here because we had to pay a specific international tuition. I wish they provided more scholarships for international students.
How have you handled:
... Language differences?
For me, it wasn’t that hard because I lived here before. I went to high school, so I had to handle it then. Sometimes it is hard to write essays, so I go to the tutoring center, but I personally didn’t have much of a problem with it. I always let my professors know that I am not from here, but I don’t think I have any big problems. If I don’t understand, I will ask my professors.
International students can only work 20 hours per week, and during the summer we can work more hours. I work at the book store on campus during the week.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
I think I learned a little bit from high school. In Brazil, we had to take all of the classes, but here I was excited to choose the days and times I go to class. The schedule is more flexible; I have more free time here. I really like the professors; they are really good. Sometimes they even ask me to write about Brazil or to talk about it. They are open-minded to learn about other countries.
What are your activities? (Clubs, sports, student associations, travel, homestay programs, special activities or trips sponsored by your program)
I help with things in the international student office. They always have a cultural day where students can talk about their countries. Everybody comes and stops to ask questions- some classes come to visit.
Downtown Kalamazoo has a lot of really nice restaurants. Normally we go to the lake.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
I would say that it is a little bit hard. I am a shy person, and so it is hard sometimes to start conversations. Some students come to Kalamazoo Valley with friends already. I have some friends from working at the book store. It depends how hard you work at making friends.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I want to work in something that I can speak other languages where I learn and help others who are going through all the process of coming here to the US. I want to be in a position where I can travel.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
I think you have to study hard because the TOFEL is kind of hard. Plan before you come. My decision was kind of last-minute. I think if I had planned better, it would have been easier.
Be open-minded about different things; cultures, different classroom set-ups, and take classes that you couldn’t take in your country. Choose classes that you normally wouldn’t take.
It is important to understand that everybody has a different point of view. Be patient in learning with others. Also, be willing to teach others. Normally, if they know that I’m from Brazil, they will ask questions.
Sometimes I get to talk about Brazil when I give presentations. One day I brought Brazilian food so other students could taste it. They learned about a culture that they normally wouldn’t learn about if they did not have a class with an international student.
In Kalamazoo, there are other people from the same country where you are from. Through Facebook, there is a Brazilian group in Portage. I know there are Brazilians around. Even far from home, there are people from home.
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