Francisca, from Chile, is in her second semester at the ELI.
1. Why did you decide to study in the USA?
I’ve always known I wanted to study abroad. That my place in the world was outside my country and that I just had to go look for it. At first, I wanted to go to New Zealand to get my education, but due to the pandemic and a series of socio-political events happening in Chile at the time, studying there wasn’t an option anymore. So I started doing my research into studying in the USA.
I fell in love with the world of opportunities the country meant and all the “just like in the movies!” moments I would experience. The true college experience that is so common in the USA but so unrealistic in so many other countries, and the reason why so many different cultures are present in the USA was the main reason I wanted to be there. I would be surrounded by an enormous diversity and such a big amount of different communities that I was sure I would find my people and discover a new sense of belonging I would have never found in my country.
2. Why did you choose your university?
Along my research I stumbled upon the University of Florida — it’s a Top 5 public university and has beautiful architecture and an overwhelming college pride. The minute I started learning about it was the minute I decided I would try and go there. It was love at first sight, from the location at the sunshine state, to the broad range of majors it provides. I loved all of it.
I started watching YouTube videos about it, looking for merch at local thrift stores in Chile, making PowerPoint presentations to my family about why I should go there, drawing the logo and hanging it in my room and all sorts of different things. I was all in since day one, so I wanted to make sure my English was at a good enough level so I would succeed on such high academic settings.
That’s when I found the English Language Institute (ELI). It was made for people like me; people looking to expand their academic knowledge in English as their second language in order to get an education in the USA. The ELI was my first option since the beginning, I started sending emails way before the applications were even open, and I applied that same day. I think it’s safe to say I love the University of Florida.
3. Have you taken any classes outside your major that you’ve enjoyed?
The ELI offers three classes: the first one is grammar, the second one is listening and speaking, and the third one is reading and writing. Since the ELI is its own entity, I can’t take any other classes that are taught by the university, my classes don’t follow the credit system and they are separated by levels of English. Therefore, I can’t say that I’ve taken classes outside my major since I will study something related to humanities.
4. What were some struggles you faced and how did you handle it?
Probably the visa process, it is complicated and full of big requirements you don’t always understand fully. So much is at stake that you can’t help but to feel overwhelmed and want to give up at times. The way I handled it was to over-prepare for the visa interview and do a lot of research to make sure I was ready.
Still, the day of the interview was probably one of the most stressful days of my life. Pro tip: you can’t wear glasses for visa picture!! When I showed up with my folder full of every single possible document they could ever ask for, and for them to tell me my picture didn’t meet the requirements, I wanted to cry. But the good thing is, I was able to take another picture and have it sent to them via mail. There is always something you can do, just ask and keep trying, everything will be okay even if things don’t go as planned, trust me!
5. What is your favorite place on campus?
The University of Florida campus is absolutely beautiful so every place is my favorite, but the “plaza of the Americas” might be the best of them all. I cross it every day to go to class and there is always something going on — maybe an organization fair, an event, activity, or simply a club hanging out. It has hammocks that you can rent, the library is a few steps away and everyday there is “Krishna Lunch” in the plaza as well. Overall a great place to hang out, relax, or discover new features and activities the university has to offer.
6. What do you want to do after graduation?
Once I graduate from the ELI I will apply to different universities in the USA to pursue my bachelor’s degree in journalism, the University of Florida being my top choice. My education is far from over, so I will continue to live as a student in this beautiful country. After my undergraduate degree I will go back to Chile and start working in my field and maybe in the future I will get my master’s, but I’m not sure yet.
7. What are some of your summer plans?
Probably explore the different beaches in Florida with friends, visit local restaurants in Gainesville, and get the most out of my stay in the United States.
8. Does your university organize any fun events you’ve attended or are looking forward to?
The University of Florida offers something called “Gator days” and “Gator nights” where they organize fun activities for all UF students. They made a haunted house for Halloween with free candy and music, hot chocolate and Christmas carols for Christmas, and many other holiday themed activities. Movie showings, trips to Disney, and many different events for all their students alike.
And the ELI has the “cultural immersion program,” which is a series of daily events to get used to speaking English on a casual setting and have fun. From picnics, sports, pool parties, museum nights, skating, potlucks, amusement parks, and many other different activities every day that you get to enjoy and share with your classmates and teachers.
9. Have you traveled around the U.S.? What were some of your favorite places, or where would you like to go?
I have only been in Florida so far, but there are many different places in my bucket list currently like New York city or Las Vegas. Both very famously known tourist hot-spots and definite must visits. I also want to visit New Orleans for its rich culture and diversity, along with its interesting history, music, and ambiance. Even though Florida alone has been a great experience so far, being full of things to do and places to see.
10. What is one of your favorite memories from your time as a student?
To be completely honest, simply walking around campus and admiring my surroundings has been a complete core-memory for me. I have found myself getting emotional when coming to the realization of this big achievement that is studying abroad. The first day of orientation has been one of my favorite days ever. Realizing that everything that I have worked so hard on is finally paying off, meeting all the people that went through the exact same process and that are experiencing the same excitement as me. The overwhelming warmth of a new community welcoming you with open arms is one of the first times I have felt a true and genuine sense of belonging that I will never forget.
11. Describe your experience in three words.
Definitely worth it.
12. What would you tell students who are considering studying in the USA?
Take the leap of faith. It is a life changing experience that will help you with your personal growth. You will learn about many different cultures and people. It might be a difficult process but if you have the opportunity to change your life and step in the unknown, do it. Break the cycle and make the decision that will affect your future for the better. It is a rewarding experience and you will not regret at least having tried.
Find that thing that moves you and makes you want to keep going when it gets hard, hold onto it and remember why you started. Some might say that this is not such a big deal but if you are really considering this we both know how important it is. Don’t downplay it, embrace it with pride and keep going, you got this.
Francisca E. Del Pino from Chile is in her second semester studying at the The English Language Institute (ELI) at the University of Florida.
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