I attended the same school my entire life: a small, selective, British private school endorsed by Cambridge University. I feel that I was exposed to a better education than most Panamanians as I started learning English at the young age of four. I am not saying public schooling is bad; it is pretty decent, but it is flawed. I am sure I would have been less prepared for college if I would have gone to a public school back home. I learned almost everything in English, the result of adhering to the Cambridge Syllabi, so it was a more advanced education.
I am incredibly grateful I was given the opportunity to go there. Luis: First of all, I had always wanted to study abroad, and the US is a very common destination for Panamanians to do their undergraduate studies. Chemical Engineering is not a very popular major back home, and I don't think any college offers undergraduate degrees in it, so that was a major reason for me to look at schools abroad. I considered the UK, but finally got a [partial] scholarship to go to college in the US… we decided to go for it and here I am.
Luis: Where I go to school is one of the most concentrated areas of southern culture, so I think the hardest parts were getting used to an extremely different culture and the heavy Southern accent. I don't miss the weather in Panama, that's for sure, but I do miss some of the food and the people back home. However, aside from that, I have adjusted to life in the US pretty quickly. Luis: Maintaining a pretty decent GPA for my major and passing all my classes so far has been a great academic achievement.
Pursuing the Dream
Your English skills also get better over time, even if it is not your first language because you are constantly surrounded by others speaking English. I have also grown so much as a person as I've had the chance to meet people from all over the world as well as familiarize myself more with American culture. I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to meet people that I know I will keep in contact with and who have had a great impact on my life. Luis: I feel that students from other countries would have a harder time than me adapting to life in the US.
Panamanian culture is heavily influenced by America due to historical reasons, so growing up I was exposed to American culture to some extent.
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Thus the change was not drastic when I came here. Sometimes I feel like people are more curious about my culture than I am about theirs, but that's because I already had a firm understanding of what American culture was like when I came in. From what I have experienced by talking to other international students something that surprisingly doesn't happen often is that they have a really hard time getting used to life here, from the lack of public transportation to American pride to football season to political correctness.
The friends I have made here know me just as well as the people back home. I don't feel like I am living two different lives where I feel comfortable back home and uncomfortable here. Instead, I invite people to know more about my culture as I do the same with theirs. Ben: How does your university perform when it comes to facilitating the transition of international students? Luis: I think that my university does its best to make everyone feel welcome, but sometimes it just doesn't translate well.
Throughout my first semester here, I was trying to figure some things out and get used to the southern way of life.
While they provided me with useful information at the International Students Orientation, I feel like it was not enough. Regarding legal matters like employment and similar aspects of life, they have been helpful, but sometimes we have to dig for the help we need. This is understandable, considering the small, but exponentially growing international student population. Luis: I would not change much about the orientation itself, because it is pretty standardized for all students, but I would like them to introduce more speakers with experience about being an international student.
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Mainly because, trust me, it takes a lot to leave everything behind you to pursue a dream abroad. I had all of it. But none of it made me happy. And none of it allowed me to pursue my dream. Instead, there was a void. Something was missing.
Pursuing Dreams Abroad: One Student's Journey from Panama to the United States | Turnitin
And so before I left my job in , I had to pay the price for my self-indulgent twenties as that decade descended into the horizon. Instead, it was far more important for me to pursue my dream—to pursue my passion for writing—than it was for me to keep living that empty, opulent lifestyle, a lifestyle which, by the way, was not bringing me happiness.
Before I left my career to become a full-time writer, I spent two years paying off the vast majority of my debt : credit card debt, student loans, medical bills, and the like. Then, over time, I gradually got rid of nearly all my bills, committing to no commitments. I no longer have the Internet at home.
Instead, I now find more productive things to do with my time, focusing on my health and my relationships and the more important things in life. No more TV. Instead, I read or write or go to a concert or a movie with a friend, creating meaningful, lasting experiences instead of channel surfing my life away. No more expensive gym membership. Now, I walk more than ever, and I exercise each day at home or in the park. No more extra bills.
No new expensive cars. No more satellite radio. No more expensive cellphone plan. No more Netflix. No more magazine subscriptions. Hell, I even stopped buying material possessions for a year.
Living my dream makes these ephemeral pleasures pale in comparison.