Dalma Cerro from Colombia prepares for her PhD at UT’s Academic English Program.
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
My decision to come to study in the United States was based on a professional objective. This objective was to study in the University of Texas (UT), which is an excellent university. However, I needed to improve my English, so I came to Austin to study English before entering the PhD program. These are the main reasons for choosing the United States and specifically the University of Texas.
How did you choose your intensive English program?
The University of Texas has the number one PhD degree in petroleum engineering in the country. Furthermore, UT has the Academic English Program (AEP), which focuses on improving the academic skills that are necessary for the development of the PhD program. The combination of these two factors make UT the perfect place for what I want to accomplish.
What do you like best about studying here?
There are many factors that I love which makes UT an excellent place. The main reason, without any doubts, is its diversity. To be at UT is like being in multiple places in the world at the same time. To get to know other cultures through their people is a magnificent and enriching experience.
What do you miss most about home?
When a tree grows, it develops and gets its nutrients from its roots. What I miss most from my home are my roots. I miss my family, my friends, places, and specifically my favorite foods made by my grandparents. My specific goal is to continue feeding these roots whenever I get the chance.
How has your English improved? How has this program helped you to handle future study at a U.S. university?
I have been studying in the United States for four months. I think my English has improved extensively during this period. Remembering the first day of class, I couldn’t understand more than 50 percent of what people said. Also, I was not able to speak for a long time. Today, I feel confident in the language. Of course, I need to improve some concepts and details.
Furthermore, I feel happy with what I achieved through today. This program has been helping me prepare for my PhD with specific topics such as pieces of advice [about] SOP (statement of purpose), CV, meeting with the professors in the PhD program, deadlines, online applications, and most important, always a positive attitude to sharing.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
Regarding the life to be honest, I was worried about xenophobia. I have seen and heard stories about this topic. Today, my perception about this is totally different. I feel an environment surrounded by respectfulness and tolerance.
Regarding academic life, the most surprising thing is the high level of expectations at UT. At the beginning I needed a long period of time to get accustomed with the scholar routine.
... your biggest disappointment?
A specific thing that surprised me was to find a city widespread geographically. This dispersion makes the use of vehicles an indispensable tool. Austin public transportation has some negative points that have impacted my life in the same way. If you can’t afford a car you will deal with public transportation.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
With a lot of patience. The best piece of advice that I’ve received from the English school was “be kind to yourself, you’re doing the best you can.” This is what I am doing, I put all my efforts into learning and improving every day. I respect myself, my limits, and try to balance my daily routine.
I consider myself as a lucky person, I have my husband’s support and his family. They gave a piece of their space here in Austin. I also have some savings that I’ve used through the time. Additionally, I work at UT and could use this money for daily expenses.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
As I said in a question above, I think the UT academic level is high and demanding. The AEP course requires high academic effort, which is good for improvement and learning. At the beginning the adaptation was a little difficult and also the understanding of the system because of the interconnected details. In general, the educational system is well organized and easy to understand. Today I have a better balance between time and activities.
What are your activities?
Sightseeing in Austin, talking, barbecues, end of semester party.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
In my opinion, it is difficult to make friends in the U.S. I think everyone is focused on their daily task without time for thinking about another one. Between hard work or study, the free time is used for their own selves. Nevertheless, this is not an impossible task.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
My main goal is to get into the PhD program at UT. My U.S. education is essential to my goals given it has significantly improved my English, which in turn increases my chances of getting a good score in the GRE exam. The GRE exam being an important decision factor in my acceptance as a PhD student.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying English in the USA?
Do it. Immerse yourself in the culture and gain a different perspective on how society can be. Be patient with yourself and enjoy all the city/university has to offer.
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