Raquel Lopez de Boer, from Spain, is Studying Neuroscience and Chemistry at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I have always been interested in the study of the brain and the nervous system as my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In Spain one can't study Neuroscience at the undergraduate level, so I decided to take the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience in the USA. I had some family friends living in Reading, PA, where I began my first year in a community college. Luckily, that year gave me time to get comfortable with the language and look for universities that offered Neuroscience.
How did you choose Moravian College?
I chose Moravian College because I really liked their Neuroscience program, and because I was going to be able to play basketball while studying what I wanted. It is in a really good location near some big cities (NYC and Philadelphia) that I had always wanted to visit and that had international airports. In addition, there are many beautiful places in and around Bethlehem, such as water falls, trails and a lot of cultural activities and shopping centers. Moravian College is a very special place because of how much they care about international students, and how many things are organized on campus to ensure a very fun and joyful college experience for everyone.
What do you like best about studying here?
I think what I like best is that I feel supported by the moravian community, to the point that I consider some people part of my family. For example, every time that I have a problem and I am stressed, I can count on my friends to help me. I also feel really comfortable with faculty and staff about telling them about my thoughts and concerns. For example, I have really thoughtful and helpful conversations with the associate director in the center for global education which helps me see things through - just like conversations with my mother if she was here.
What do you miss most about home?
I definitely miss my family, but I would say that I miss home-cooked meals the most. I love food and I think that the food that I used to eat at home is much better than the one I eat here. I like the different restaurants that I might not have ever tried if I had stayed in Spain, but after a while a good home-cooked meal just like my mom used to make is what I need.
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’ve been studying at Moravian for 3 years, and I have definitely seen an improvement in my English skills. I am more comfortable speaking in English than I was before, and I have improved my writing skill immensely. I think that it is really important to be exposed 100% to a different language in order to improve it. Moravian has given me the confidence and skills to think critically in English and be able to communicate my ideas effectively across multiple disciplines.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
My biggest surprise was how many similar things I found that resemble what I used to watch in the movies before I came to America. For example, eating in the classroom during lectures, or attending classes in pajamas. I would have never believed that those things would actually happen, but I guess I was wrong! In regards to education, my biggest surprise was how open the system is, meaning that you can explore things that are very different from your major, which I think is awesome. I took a couple of Art classes because I love painting and I had a lot of fun learning something other than science. I love science, don't get me wrong, I am just happy that I got to learn about more things other than science only because I think it is important to get exposed to different things.
... your biggest disappointment?
My biggest disappointment is that a car is needed to go everywhere! I was lucky enough to get a very old, steady car, but I know some of my international friends always depend on people to drive them to the store and things like that. On the bright side, Bethlehem has a lot of things that can be done without a car. But in general, not every campus allows one to find easy ways of moving around and still have fun without a car.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
Sometimes it gets a little bit difficult to express a thought in English if it comes from something that I have experienced in Spanish. For example, if I see a video on Instagram in Spanish and I find it funny, I usually want to share it with my friends here and so I have to translate everything only to find out that they don't find it funny or don't get the joke or whatever it is. This is just an example of how our cultures shape up differently, and how sometimes language differences make it difficult to interact with one another. However, as you become more acclimated to the new culture these language differences seem to fade away. It just takes time to know what to say, when and in what way.
Living on your own can be challenging as now you are the one that controls your expenses. At the beginning, I found it difficult to do this. But as the time passed, I realized what my priorities were and that if I had extra money it might be a better idea to save it for when I really needed it than spending it in something fancy. As an international student you are only able to work on campus, so I tried filling up my free time with work hours so that I could make more money for whenever I needed it.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
What I found more difficult about adjusting to the educational system here was the constant change in schedule. In Spain your classes can be either in the morning or in the evening. Here your schedule can change drastically every semester. I found this difficult to adjust because my eating schedule and extra-curricular activities are affected by it.
What are your activities?
I try to stay involved on campus as much as possible. I play basketball and I am part of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Habitat for the Humanity, Spanish club (how could I not!), and I am also the vice president of Brain Club and a 26-point ambassador (tour guide). In addition to these clubs filling up my time, I also get to participate in activities from the Moravian Activity Council (MAC). Some of the activities include trips to NYC, to a Broadway show, ice skating rink, and things like that. The center for global education also programs some fun trips such as a Washington DC trip or hiking adventurous.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
I feel like it is as easy as you want to make it. It is really important to try your best to talk to people and get to know them. I would say that to some extent it is easy to meet people that have interest in the country you are from and things like that, so it is always easy to talk to them about your country and your culture.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I would like to continue my higher education to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience so that I can study the brain and the nervous system in more depth. My goal is to specialize in the research of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's disease. Thanks to my US education I feel like it would be easier for me to get into a good PhD program here in the US. I think that every country needs researchers because through research is how our life quality improves.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying English in the USA?
My advice to them is to not be afraid of coming to the USA! It is an incredible opportunity that many people wish to have, and even a dream for some of them. I would say that it is important that you have your goals clear as it can be challenging at times, but having your focus on the incredible opportunity and your goals, will make those challenging moments easy to overcome. Keep your head planning for the future and take the opportunities that will make you grow as a person!
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Raquel Lopez de Boer, from Spain, is studying Neuroscience and Chemistry at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
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