One of the best parts of being an international student is sharing my culture with others while learning about theirs. Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, populated by about 5 million people. It is no wonder that Costa Ricans often joke that we are all somehow “cousins” and that it is easy for us to “know everyone.” Because I studied at an American school in Costa Rica, the culture here was not completely foreign to me when I returned in December 2020. I also lived in North Carolina for a couple of years when I was in middle school with my mother and grandmother. Nonetheless, coming back as an adult to study in a place that has always felt like my second home has been an interesting journey that I am excited to share.
A journey through educational variety
Graduating from high school at Lincoln School in Costa Rica in 2010 — right as the United States was starting to recover from the Great Recession — made my dream of studying abroad uncertain. The daughter of a hardworking elementary school teacher and single mother, my possibilities of coming to the United States as an undergraduate college student were limited; a hard reality to accept after years of hard work and academic excellence. “Your time will come,” my mom used to say, and little did I know, nearly ten years later, I would be here fulfilling that dream.
I was fortunate to experience both public and private college education. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from the University of Costa Rica, one of the largest universities in the country and top-ranked in Central America. With a student population of roughly 45,000 between undergraduate and graduate students, the school has a very dynamic environment. Attending a large school was fun because it allowed me to make friends with diverse interests. However, it often felt like I was just a number rather than a person with goals and dreams of my own.
I continued my education with a graduate degree from Santa Paula University, a much smaller, private institution specializing in allied health sciences. The highly trained faculty members provided a rigorous academic and professional environment, which I enjoyed. It was also my first encounter with the feeling of community that an institution could offer because the faculty and staff invested time in getting to know their students individually. For this reason, Santa Paula University will always hold a special place in my heart.
Shortly after graduation, I established my private practice in Costa Rica. In the process, I discovered that my preparation as a physical therapist had been stellar, but that I knew absolutely nothing about owning a business. Establishing a business and running it was a wonderful experience that pushed me to learn about many aspects of life outside my field. Suddenly, I learned about taxes, scheduling, keeping records, marketing, customer service, and much more. There was a lot to learn, and I wanted to properly learn these tools rather than discover them as I went along.
With my mother already living in North Carolina, it seemed logical to look at institutions in the area. Through my research, I discovered that many programs had pre-requisite courses like economics and accounting, and a few other classes I had never taken. Forsyth Technical Community College’s associate’s degree program would allow me to complete some of these general courses at a lower cost and prepare more effectively for my next educational steps. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to shut down my professional services for months, there seemed like no better time to start my journey. I applied and got accepted, and my relocation to Winton-Salem began just a few months shortly after.
Relocating during a pandemic was challenging. While I got accepted to Forsyth Tech early in 2020, student visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy can only be scheduled 120 days before the academic program begins. By March 2020, the whole world went into pandemic mode, the embassies shut down, flights were grounded, and I was devastated.
Weekly calls to the embassy to request information became the norm. With August fast approaching, and after having my emergency appointment request denied, I realized just how challenging it would be to relocate. I deferred my start by six months to allow things to get back to “normal,” something we are all still eagerly waiting almost two years later.
Much more than a community college
Forsyth Tech is a much smaller institution than both colleges I previously attended. Nonetheless, in this past year, I have enjoyed some of the perks of attending a smaller institution. Forsyth Tech feels like much more than an educational institution; it feels like home. True to Southern hospitality, from my very first visit to request information to my last final for the year, the staff and faculty have gone above and beyond their duty to make me feel like I belong. With a plethora of activities to cater to every student, there is always something going on. Although my first semester was mostly remote learning, I never felt like a stranger as the student life and engagement team at Forsyth Tech found clever ways to unite students through screens and devices.
At the end of my first semester, I was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society at Forsyth Tech. PTK is an honor society for two-year institutions that provides tools to students to thrive in academic and professional environments. Quickly after joining, I became part of the leadership team. With a focus on scholarship, leadership, fellowship, and service, PTK has allowed me to make friends in a new country, learn about my surroundings, and give back to the community.
This year, I was also selected to represent the student body as one of Forsyth Tech’s student ambassadors. Through this role, I have gotten to know my community of fellow students as well as individuals and foundations that make the magic happen. As I slowly discover more about Forsyth County, I fall in love with all that it has to offer. Both of these opportunities allow me to share my culture with others which I feel is essential to any international student.
After Forsyth Tech, I hope to pursue a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing, ideally staying in North Carolina. Although deciding what institution to go to next is still a few months away, financial aid and scholarships for international students are scarce. With many out-of-state tuition rates starting at $30,000 per year, picking a school can feel overwhelming, especially when student visas limit the possibilities of working.
Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that my hard work, eagerness to learn, and desire to give back to the community will not go unnoticed. Hopefully, another amazing institution like Forsyth Tech will take a chance on me.