Photo by Alyssa Smith
The Shield interviewed three international students to see how they were acclimating to life at a U.S. university. In this weekly series, The Shield revisits Sandrita Sanabria, a junior international studies major from Paraguay, to hear her reflect on her entire student experience.
The Shield: What have you taken away from your experience at USI?
Sanabria: I became more independent here because in Paraguay, I lived with my parents. Here, there is no one telling me what to do, no one to tell me to do my homework or do my laundry. I learned to do all that by myself. It was pretty easy, actually, and I thought it would be harder. I’m still learning how to organize everything and focus on what’s important and what’s not, like balancing life between school, homework, hanging out with friends, getting to know a little bit of America and how to balance my time.
I think the thing I’m going to take away after this trip is there are always going to be people willing to help you and things get way easier when you have someone beside you, supporting you. Studying in the library wouldn’t have been as fun if it wasn’t for my three guy friends. Even though we were taking different classes, we would get together to study and they would always be there for me no matter what.
The Shield: What has your overall experience been like?
Sanabria: It’s been great. I didn’t get to pick USI. My program picked the university for me, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s just the right size, you have this family environment and you will never feel alone here. There’s so many activities to do and it’s hard to say “no” to some of the activities. For international students, if you’re looking for a place where you can still travel a lot, then I think Evansville is perfect. You’re just a couple of hours away from Nashville and Louisville.
The Shield: What were some of the cultural differences you faced?
Sanabria: The hardest part was being on time, because in Paraguay, when people say a specific time, that means 30 minutes later is when they will show up. One of my friends put it this way: she said. “If you’re five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re not there.” I think that quote made me realize I do need to show up on time, so I’ve been working on that. You’re actually more productive if you start things on time. I also learned that Americans work hard and they keep up with school and also get a job. It’s not like their parents are paying everything for them. You guys learn what you want to do and you pay for that.
The Shield: Did you find anything difficult at the university when you were here?
Sanbria: It’s difficult because English isn’t my first language, so that requires an extra job and extra time reading a chapter. In Paraguay, it would take me half the time to read a book than it would in English if I want to understand everything. I realized that American professors help you more. They help you during their office hours or you can reach them by email and they are looking for your opinion, not just copying what you read in the book. You guys do read a lot. You have the lecture, but you have reading materials that you go through and I think that’s really good.
What I do miss about Paraguay is the classroom environment, because in Paraguay you pick your major at the beginning of your freshman year and they tell you what classes you’re going to take. So all the people that take that major go to all these classes together for four or five years. So you know them all and in the classroom they are your friends, and after classes you’ll be like, “Do you want to get pizza or anything?” Here, you get your friends in clubs, sports or (Greek Life).
The Shield: What has been your favorite experience?
Sanabria: I went to a workshop in Washington D.C. two weeks ago and it was incredible because there were 193 students from 54 different countries. We had people from Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. It was so amazing.
It will give you goosebumps when you get to see all these people learning about different cultures. Sometimes we all have different problems in our countries, but there are also people in all these countries fighting every single day to get a better education and do something for the world and that was out of this world. Just getting to know these people, it was like getting a taste of the whole world.
The Shield: Are you sad about leaving?
Sanabria: Saying “goodbye” to my suite mates will be difficult. They’ve been so supportive. The international students became my family here and I think that’s the hardest part, because I don’t know if I’ll see them all again — probably not. It is sad.
The Shield: What knowledge do you plan on taking back to Paraguay?
Sanabria: The U.S. is so diverse. I did the international exchange three years ago in California and the culture is really different. You have the southern culture and the western culture. America has this diversity between Americans because of the influence of many immigrants, and the thing I learned the most is that we all have different backgrounds and different histories. But in the end, we are all looking to achieve greater things. We are all looking to help the community and just make this world better.
The Shield: Are you happy about seeing your family and friends back home?
Sanabria: I’m happy I’m going to be able to see them, but I wish I could stay longer here. I think I’m going to miss this place so much, and I’m always with my friends. They became my family, so it’s like having my family here. I read a quote that said something like: when you leave abroad, you don’t know what home is anymore. A piece of my heart is going to be left here. I’m excited about seeing my family, and I’m happy, and I know they are looking forward to seeing me, too.