Undervalued abroad- A path full of ups and downs.

Moving to another country is a difficult decision itself. Starting again, meeting new people and feeling extremely lonely during the adaptation period is as natural as it is challenging. When I decided to move to the United States, I didn’t imagine the extent of my decision! I don’t come from a rich family, but never anything was ever lacking at my home. I was born and raised in a middle-class Brazilian family and attended a private catholic school my entire life. I had nannies, babysitters, extracurricular classes (such as ballet, tennis, private English school, private tutors for math, physics, science, etc). I also picked a major I loved and I ended up studying Architecture for two years at a private college. That’s when everything changed… I was following the same path as 99.9% of my friends (as expected of any Brazilian middle class individual, things were predictable, therefore, boring -for me. ) I was going to get an internship, maybe a partner, open an architecture office and that is it. I wanted more.

My city in Brazil. Maceio-Alagoas

 The college I was attending in Brazil

I knew that waiting for my graduation would delay my idea of study abroad. I always wanted to live the American high school dream, experience something new, meet new friends, but the time has passed by so fast. My dream of attending high school was already in the past, I missed the chance and now it was time of decision making again! I felt deep in my heart I had to live abroad for at least a few months. I planned the trip for almost a year! I always had in mind that English would be essential for any career that I wanted to pursue. So, I decided to learn it and come back with full fluency. That way, it would be easier to get a job in another state or at a multinational company.

I have never imagined my decision would make me suffer in so many ways and forms. I came to the U.S in 2010 to live with a host family and learn English. On the first months living with the family, suffered from homesickness, I was experiencing loneliness in a country that I wasn’t familiar with. I was living with a middle-class American family at a suburban city in New Jersey whose quality of life and habits were very different than what I was used to. The culture shock was immediate. As soon as I arrived at my house, I was introduced to my car, a red Honda accord (that in the future would become my best friend.)  

The city I lived for my first year in the U.S it was called Chatham and it was located in New Jersey.

Main street


The only Gazebo and park in the city haha

 Over the weeks, I learned a few things such as

1- The distance in relationships (in that case of parents and children).
2- The amount of junk food kids eat (and crazy meal schedules).  
3- Everything about the city I was living was extremely clean.
4- Americans were very punctual. 
5- Driving on the red light gives you a ticket (in Brazil, we usually don’t stop on red lights after 6pm because it can be very dangerous! Robbers target drivers at night).

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of my host family behaviors, I was living an amazing experience. With the monthly meetings (organized by the exchange travel agency I came) I met other girls, which some of them, later on became best friends and others, friends of convenience.

Since my work schedule was flexible (2:30 pm to 7:30 pm) I had every morning and evenings free.
In the morning, I chose Drew University to start my English classes. (a decision that couldn’t have been better, besides being a wonderful college, my teacher was a sweetheart ) through my English classes, I met other exchange students. I loved spending mornings learning English  and sharing experiences with people from all over the world.

Building were my classes were held. I loved every single detail about Drew.
One of the buildings

 Some Brazilian girls I met came from very poor backgrounds. Sometimes when I tried to communicate with them, it was complicated because their written Portuguese and communication skills were confusing. Some girls in my class were obsessed about American men and the idea of getting married and staying here forever. Some just wanted to learn English and return to their country of origin and start college. Others girls wanted to go to college here (my case). Meeting those people and hearing their life’s stories and their goals in the United States, it was definitely very interesting. Each person carried a background and in our comfort zones we never get to meet people from other upbringings.

Self-confidence X Support

Living abroad is not easy. We are constantly learning new things about ourselves. Having family support (even if it is over the phone) can be a powerful tool. But, more important than that, is finding balance and knowing your own VALUE. I can’t even count how many times people looked down on me for the fact I am Brazilian. Unfortunately social issues in Brazil has brought an incredible number of illegal immigrants to the United States. Those are the same immigrants that make people create the Brazilian ”stereotype”. Being strong therefore is not an option but a path we all need to take when living away from home. When you are a part of a sub-minority, you have to be assertive and not let anyone bring you down.  

Switching visas- from J1 to F1.

During my exchange year (living and working for a host family) I took classes both in New Jersey and in New York City. Twice a week I would attend my ESL class at Drew University, once a week I would attend my french class at a local church and every Saturday I would come to New York for my jewelry design classes at Studio Jewelers(my therapy!)

I took advantage of my first year to explore schools and opportunities. I guess around my 8th month in the United States, I decided to switch my j1 visa to f1 and attend college over here. Since we all need to take the TOEFL test in order to get accepted to any college, I made my student visa application through an English school in New York called ALCC.

Entrance of ALCC on 36th street.

For 4 months, I took the train 5 days a week from NJ to NY for my classes. At ALCC, I took writing, speaking, listening and TOEFL prep. classes. Right after 4 months, I took the TOEFL test and scored 92. I was ready to apply for colleges. Since I was still living in New Jersey, I decided to apply to a community college there. 

I started my classes at Raritan Valley C.C but unfortunately the staff was very unfriendly. They obligated all International Students to take endless English classes (that sometimes it would take up to 2 years). That meant we were paying tuition fees for English classes regardless of our TOEFL scores or time lived in the U.S. (of course, it was a college in the middle of nowhere, they needed money) Watching the time passing by while taking a 4 hours commute (yep, 4 hours! 2 trains + light rail + bus = 8 hours commuting every day) made me feel completely miserable. I’ve never felt so frustrated in my whole life. I could barely taste a class related to my major. I was studying English all over again, leaving home at 4 am and coming back at 10-11pm. 

That is when I decided to move to New York and attend college over here. I applied for 4 CUNY colleges: Baruch, City College, Hunter and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend Baruch, City or Hunter because as a transfer international student, you have to have English 101 and Math. Since all my classes in 1 year and 6 months at Raritan were only ESL, I wasn’t able to transfer to a 4 year college. 

I moved to NY on April and started attending BMCC in the fall of 2013. As soon as I got here, I had to take some CUNY assessment tests (to see if I needed any remedial classes). I passed all tests and no remedial classes were needed. I was finally going to register for my first real English and math class! I could not contain my happiness. During my first semester, I was happy but a little bit lost. It was during my second semester that I started to get more involved on campus. I applied for of a leadership program called B.O.L.T (Building Outstanding Leaders of Tomorrow) and this program changed everything.

BMCC- Fiterman Hall
I am the blond one on the left 🙂

  Through the B.O.L.T program, I met a lot of leaders on and outside campus. I got to understand how the student activities office operated and all opportunities the college had to offer. After meeting Kimberly Chu, a lovely person responsible for the CUNY CORPS PROGRAM, (Opportunities for
students, faculty, and staff at
the University to work on projects that improve the city’s short and
long-term civic, economic and environmental sustainability), I applied for the program.

endless interviews with organizers and companies, I was hired by an
awesome and by far (at least for me) the best organization. I will be
working for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on their mobile development team. They only had 4 spots
for 4 different departments and my best friend, also made it too. My college population is of 24000 students and only 108 were in
the program ( less than 1% of the students, to be exact 0.4%). Yes, I am happy and proud of my journey =).

Now, in my third semester at BMCC I will start working on my first real job pretty soon, I am also part of the P.L.U.S program and I am the vice president of the college’s Fashion and Beauty Club.

There are no smooth rides when we do the ”right thing”

Doing the right thing sometimes can be very depressing. As I previously talked over here, living on a student visa is really, REALLY  hard. We have so many limitations! We are not allowed to work outside campus (unless is approved by USCIS)… As soon as we graduate we have to find a sponsor, etc, etc. Sometimes I also feel sad when someone ask me why I don’t attend college x or z when for International Students,most of the times, financials are the biggest reason for going to a less known college. It is very difficult for outsiders to understand the struggles we face and many of them don’t believe in our capacities. That is why we need to stand up for our beliefs and keep walking no matter what! The journey can be long but at the end we will say with relief: I MADE IT! 


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