Fernanda Terrazas, from Mexico, graduated from Grossmont College with an associate of science degree
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I had initially planned to come to the U.S. for three months to improve my English while taking a short break before going to college. Soon after I got here, I learned about Grossmont College and how affordable it could be to attend, even as an international student. I had always known that U.S. degrees have great international reputation and are highly regarded in Mexico. The idea of going back to Mexico with a U.S. degree sounded very attractive to me as it could very easily open doors to better professional opportunities. I knew it would be challenging, but I knew that going the extra mile would pay off in the future.
How did you choose Grossmont College?
Grossmont College was one of the only schools that had the program that I wanted, and I saw on their website that they were one of the top community colleges in San Diego County. Also, the application process was by far the most straightforward one compared to other schools. As an international student, taking care of the requirements and applications can be a very confusing process, but Grossmont made it very easy. It’s hard for me to forget the first time I visited the campus and admissions office; the staff were incredibly cordial from the moment I walked in.
What do you like best about studying here?
Since the very first day I got here, I have been amazed with the amount of cultural diversity that surrounds me. The international community here is so vast and so diverse, that it makes for the most ideal environment for students who are abroad. It makes it really hard to feel excluded; at least I have never felt that way. Also, I am lucky to come from the country next door, and I have to say that has always been a plus from studying here. I can cross the border and come back in a heartbeat whenever I’m craving some authentic Mexican food.
What do you miss most about home?
My family, of course, but I am blessed to have them in the neighboring country and seeing them means getting in a short 2-hour flight. Not bad! Food is definitely second. I have to say I can make pretty good food at home, and San Diego has plenty of Mexican supermarkets where I can find everything I need. However, Mexico is all about street food and that doesn’t exist here in San Diego; there’s something about street food that tastes so incredibly different from homemade or restaurant food, it’s weird.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
I was very surprised to see how the existence of a seemingly virtual line separating two countries makes such a distinct difference. It’s truly interesting to see how much things change from one side to the other. I believe that having the opportunity to come here and pursue higher education while being surrounded by people that come from so many different parts of the world has helped me grow as a person. I have learned a lot from others, and others have learned from me. It has allowed me to see things from many different perspectives, and that’s very valuable for my education. On top of that, the educational system here is filled with a huge variety of opportunities, programs, and courses that allow you to explore different fields and majors before you even decide where you want to go.
... your biggest disappointment?
The views and generalizations that many Americans seem to have about my country and about Mexicans. I’ll just say that we aren’t all the same, we all have different purposes and goals. More than that, I think the fact that I was once denied a tourist visa to attend my first graduation disappointed me the greatest. It made me doubt if I truly wanted to come back to the U.S. after all. I had completed my associate degree right before summer and before applying for a renewal of my student visa. They said I couldn’t get one because I didn’t have a job in Mexico then. I couldn’t go to my graduation.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
I started learning English in kindergarten and continued learning every year until I graduated from high school; that definitely worked to my advantage. However, I always tried to stay out of my comfort zone and befriend students from non-Spanish speaking countries. The first semester I was in the U.S., I lived with an American host family and, since then, I always made sure I was speaking, listening to, and reading in English all the time. Many students are embarrassed by their accent and become shy; I have felt that way before and that’s ok! What’s important is to overcome that feeling and speak loud and proud. I’m proud because I’m bilingual, you should be proud too!
I have been very fortunate to count the support of my parents throughout my life and while studying in the U.S.. With time, I started learning that there are actually many opportunities for international students to get financial support through scholarships and even employment. I got to work as an international student ambassador at Grossmont College. Besides gaining experience in my very first paid job in the USA, I could enrich my resume and grow my network. I have realized that there is this huge misconception among international students into thinking that we are not eligible for any of these opportunities because of our status in the country, which is not true.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
It’s hard for me to say since I never attended a college or university in Mexico, so I can’t fairly compare, but it wasn’t as bad as I initially thought. Of course, the language makes it more difficult, but that’s something that you must work on before jumping into the difficult challenge of pursuing a degree here. I have found that professors treat their students equally (and that’s a good thing!), whether you are a local or international student, so you need to keep up. Whether English is your first language or not is not an excuse. I learned that Grossmont College has an intensive English program on campus called American Collegiate English. If you don’t have the required TOEFL for Grossmont, you can start there.
What are your activities?
Grossmont College differentiates itself for having a very strong international student community. The international club does its best to put together events and activities that are fun for both international and local students. Some of my favorite events were the bonfires and hikes. We went to Iron Mountain once, and we had a blast; it was a great opportunity for me to connect with other students and make new friends outside of class!
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
Easy! American people are in general very friendly and welcoming to new people. And again, the huge international student community that exists here makes it even easier. I think international students almost inevitably befriend other international students because they very quickly find commonalities and shared interests between one another.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
As a future microbiologist and bioinformatics student, I know that applied science is where I want to go. The evolving drug-resistance crisis is calling for an increased number of scientists that work to find new and improved ways to fight it and eradicate it, often motivated by the wish of breaking-through. I see myself as one of those scientists. Now, coming from a country where the scientific capacity of the nation is at risk, I’d like to support the scientific community of Mexico with my insight, knowledge, and skillset to help the nation with its advancement and development. I hope to one day be able to help people see and appreciate the importance that the field could have for the economic success of the country.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying in the USA?
If you’re given the opportunity, do it! However, do your research and take advantage of all the information that is handed to you. Depending on where you go, the process can be long and that means you need to apply and do many, many things in advance. Don’t let that overwhelm you! This could be the best and most valuable experience in your life and career.
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Fernanda Terrazas, from Mexico, graduated from Grossmont College with an associate of science degree.
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