No silver spoon for me, international student from a “developing” country. (My reflection after 7 years living away from home)
I was born and raised in a small beach town in northeastern Brazil. Maceio is located in the state of Alagoas (or “North of Rio de Janeiro”, as I would explain to my foreign friends). In Brazil, my family was considered middle class. There, my family had cars, places to live, farms, babysitters, cooks and maintained a certain quality of life (privileged compared to the sad reality of my beloved country).
The obvious class division was part of my life only in a few moments; when I came across very rich or influential people, or by reading the local newspaper (Gazeta de Alagoas) and spotting photos and gossip notes written by party promoters and social columnists.
The division and social pressure was so intense, that on several occasions I dreamed of seeing my picture stamped there with some useless caption to somehow feel “good”.
Sometimes I wondered why some individuals’ behaviors were borderline ridiculous. On top of their yachts on the most noble beaches of the city; they spread sound pollution and lack of any acceptable form of common sense. Whiskey bottles were thrown into the air and beautiful women would form a sort of shield -almost like an advertisement of one’s own ego.
I’ve never been a “x,y,z group” type of person, I’ve always enjoyed meeting different people. That was a problem for me, after all, it did not fit the molds of my surroundings. I lived in conflict with my own personality. I wondered if I had to behave in a way and be part of some group, other times I just wanted to be me. No explanation of anything to anyone. Some days, I was wondering how great it would feel to go out on my pajama pants or with my natural nails. The feeling of freedom shadowed my thoughts. Freedom of my soul, freedom from a society that was often chauvinistic, closed and rooted in futile values.
One day, while attending university, I decided to leave everything behind and simply start over. Restart from scratch and leave behind my “golden crib” as we say in Brazil or “silver spoon” as we say here in the United States.
I found a program called “Au Pair”; program which promised a total immersion in an American family with the benefits of attending English lessons and earning some money weekly working as a babysitter for the family’s children. Against all my family’s wishes, I signed up for the program. I was 20 years old and the day I stepped into the United States, I went back to zero.
At that moment, my silver spoon, no longer existed. I quickly learned a new type of division, this time, racial. From the very beginning I would hear about “white privilege” in the United States mixed with hate comments between races. My understanding of the historical roots of that expression was completely vague.
I started my English as a Second Language classes at Drew University and there, I often heard direct criticism about my grammatical structure when writing essays in addition of my professor calling me out about me (not) arriving on time for classes.
One of the first great realizations I had was that Brazilians do not like to be criticized. Until then, my idea of criticism was to listen to that one friend saying that everything was right, even though everything was so incredibly wrong.
I’ve realized that in addition to moral values, educational values were also very different over here. Back in Brazil, getting into any public college was enough to be considered a very good student . Here, I met the 3 scariest letters of my lifetime: “GPA”, which is basically the average of all your grades that can define your academic and professional future.
I realized that arriving on time for classes was no more than my obligation as a student and as a citizen who respected teachers and the time they devoted themselves to it.
After 10 months living here, I decided to stay a little longer. I applied for a new visa and continued the most crazy and uncertain journey of my life (Ah, and the most interesting one too).
I quickly learned that being an international student carried stereotypes, for example, that we were all rich. The United States is a huge country that hosts the best universities in the world, so students from very privileged families tend to come here to pursue their studies.Not surprisingly, people will build this stereotype.
In my case, it was a little different. I came from a country where the currency is almost 4 times weaker than the US dollar. Imagine instead of paying around $1000 dollars per semester in my home country, having to pay for a college tuition that costed about $30,000 per semester! (No loans or anything for international students/ saved in rare scenarios where we can get a tiny grant or scholarship)
Despite the difficulties, something in my heart (and on the ratings of U.S educational system haha) made me think I had to study here, that I would not leave this country feeling accomplished without at least a diploma.
My first degree was from a community college. There, I met people who lived in homeless shelters, who were single mothers, rich international students trying to boost their GPA’s, students who came from a completely different economic, cultural and educational background. We were sitting side by side, learning and walking together in academic life.
I started noticing that some people would look down on me for attending a community college. In the first month or two, I didn’t know how to deal with it, I soon learned how to stand up for what I think is good and really helps people on a larger scale.
The pride and love I feel for that campus does not fit into my heart. In that college, I met other international students, each with its own story, struggles (or not). I participated on every single event, workshop and opportunities the campus offered, I even got my first internship there! My mission there was accomplished.
I continued my studies at a bigger college. Among CUNY colleges (the only set of colleges I can realistically afford), Baruch is one of the bests. I was so obsessed with studying there that when I applied for my transfer I didn’t even pick a second option!
As I finish my Bachelors at Baruch, I feel that when this cycle closes, a whole new one will soon begin.
With the limitations of the student visa and the new proposals of the president, I literally have no clue about what the future looks like. I won’t lie and say that everything is ok. Anxiety has been knocking on my door for some time and living on the back of my thoughts.
After 7 years of a fast-paced, surprise-filled lifestyle, I could regret a great deal (especially given the fact I would have a much easier life back home).
Still, something is here, telling me one more time I have no right to regret at all, not even for a minute for living life to the fullest. A few months and I’ll see what the next phase holds. May life surprise me, here or in other oceans for the next 7 years to come. May my crazy journey can inspire all my f-1 friends to follow their dreams.