This post is part of a series featuring conversations with MU international students. They talk about life and culture in Missouri and at MU, as well as their experiences as international students and perceptions of American culture inside and outside the classroom.
Year at MU: Senior
Major: Health science
Home country: Mexico
What was it like for you when you first came to Columbia?
I had been here before and lived in the U.S., but I lived here for a very short time. It was an interesting experience. Obviously, it’s very different from Mexico. People are a lot nicer and part of that is because the city is smaller than my hometown. The smallest city I lived in before Columbia was 2 million people, so it was a drastic change. I really like Columbia, the people are nice and the environment is calm in comparison. In my opinion, everything moves slower here.
So you like that smaller city feel?
Yeah, I really like it. I like the fact that you can meet most people and they’ll know who you are. If you go to a restaurant or on campus, you can see people you know. In a big city, you are never going to meet others you know. It’s a small world, but not that small. (laughs)
What made you decide to come to Mizzou?
My parents currently live in St. Louis, but I was still in Mexico at a college in Monterrey. I did the college search with my family and I visited some other schools in Missouri, but I thought that MU was my fit. I really liked the campus tour. It was the college experience that I could imagine, like you see in the movies. The academics were also good so I was happy that I ended up coming here. That was a big deal to get into Mizzou.
Was there anything surprising when you first started school at MU?
The school spirit was huge. I knew about it, but did not see it until I started. It was definitely shocking. It’s not the case in Mexico, school spirit isn’t there. People here are so, “Go Mizzou!” and “Go Tigers!” Even people outside of the state that went here still wear Mizzou T-shirts and sweatshirts. That never happens in Mexico. In Mexico, the university is more of a stepping stone to work and it’s really funny that it is so different. That cultural aspect I really like, that you are so patriotic for your school.
It has a sense of unity, right?
Yes, and I think that’s very nice. One of my friends went to New York recently and she found some people who love Mizzou. That’s so crazy. I like that you can meet people who identify with the university all over the country. Like I said, we just don’t have that in Mexico, that unity.
Did your school there have a mascot?
My old school? Yeah, it was the rams, Borregos Salvajes. They are famous in Mexico because it is a big American football school and they won a ton of championships because no one can compete with them there. Not that many schools play American football in Mexico, so that’s pretty cool.
Do you go to any of the Mizzou football games?
Yeah, I try to go to most of them. I really like it. Last year, I didn’t buy a season ticket, which was dumb, but I watched them on TV even when I couldn’t attend. My first year here I went to every game. I go to basketball games more than football games.
What do you like to do for fun in Columbia?
Fridays and Saturdays I try not to do anything school related. I enjoy watching sports, but I’m a big food truck and food person. When they open new restaurants downtown, I make sure to go eat there. My friends enjoy that, too. You can go and eat, it’s a very social activity. I like board games. Here in Columbia, I’m not that outdoorsy, but I have gone fishing here occasionally and that can be fun. Most of my time is spent on campus because I’m involved in a lot of organizations.
What kind of things are you involved in on campus?
I am the vice president of the School of Health Professions Diversity Alliance. What we do is promote diversity in the allied health field because we have nurses and doctors, but how do we promote diversity there in those professions? It is something we had never thought of until we decided to do something to change that. We are a small organization in our first year, as expected, but that is something that I enjoy doing. I am a tutor at the Learning Center on campus, which is the biggest thing that I do. I tutor mostly physiology. I’m the main tutor for that class and I really enjoy tutoring. I also work at the School of Health Professions as a peer adviser and assist students with deciding what courses to take and other questions they have. I try to keep myself busy or I get bored. (laughs)
(laughs) It sounds like you’re really busy, but focused! It seems like everything relates back to your work in the health professions, diversity initiatives and a person-centered approach to life here.
I like that. I like to talk, I like for people to talk to me. That’s why tutoring is something I really like to do. I also get to reinforce my knowledge. I enjoy the fact that I do help people. One of my friends was taking physiology last semester and they said I helped get them through that class and into the program they wanted. That’s nice. It’s rewarding to know what I do impacts someone else. Honestly, you never think about it like that. I always thought of it as more of a job, but it became more than that for me.
I know you also sometimes volunteer with the International Center. What’s your experience been like with the international community here?
I have had some friends I’ve met from orientation. It’s different because a lot of them are graduate students, but it’s been an interesting experience to meet students from other countries and see their views on life. They are very different from my view on life. I have friends from Iran, Poland, Spain… I think it’s been a great experience to meet people from other countries. It’s something fun. I try to volunteer when I can to meet other cultures. Mexico is very homogeneous in general, so I really enjoy meeting other cultures and learning about what they do, what they eat and what they enjoy. Every time I meet someone, I want to know what they think about different things. Talking about their culture helps me to improve how I talk with others about culture in the future. I like that. I like being more socially aware of cultural differences, but I also think we are all similar in some ways, like we all like food. (laughs)
(laughs) Food is definitely a universal topic.
That’s always interesting to see what others eat. For example, a friend of mine from Poland told me about the Polish restaurant here in Columbia. I had never had Polish food and it was amazing. It was really good. I love talking about food.
What are some of your favorite places to eat in Columbia?
(laughs) So I talk about this place all the time. It’s called CJ’s wings. I love chicken wings. I’m a big fan and will talk about it for hours. It’s my favorite place in Columbia. I’m very often there. I also really like Flat Branch, Booches and Cafe Poland. The best Mexican food here is La Terraza. It is the closest to authentic Mexican food here in Columbia.
What would you like others to know about being an international student in Columbia?
I think a lot of people think that international students are their own group, when that’s not true. People I’ve met tend to assume I just hang out with others who are similar to me. International students like to socialize, we like to hang out. I think sometimes people from the U.S. think that we tend to only hang out with each other. I think everyone enjoys meeting other people and getting to know others who are different. Another cultural difference I’ve noticed is that Americans don’t typically stop and talk. If I see someone on the street, I always stop to talk for a second. It was so weird at the beginning because in Mexico you stop and talk. Here, no one stops and it is different. International students are sociable, we want to hang out with others.
What advice would you have for new international students?
Pretty similar to the previous question, you need to be open to talking with others. Don’t be afraid to meet other people. People here in Columbia here are very nice. I was afraid to talk to others when I first moved here, but it’s not a big deal. Just try to be open and sociable. Be open to meeting other people. I think it is good to challenge yourself to meet others. Be talkative and get to know others because you never know.
So be willing to take risks?
Exactly. You never know who you are going to meet and what relationships will come out of that initial contact. I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Columbia, so I had to be open and talk to people. It worked out! Also, getting involved on campus helps you meet people.
Also, something you will never find anywhere else in the world is tailgating. Tailgating and going to football games. It’s very specific to American culture and so much fun. Nowhere else will you find such a love for a team, for a school. I love it. I think it is so cool. While you are here at MU, try to go to at least one football game and tailgate. A lot of people don’t think about it. Also, Mizzou is such a big football school I think it is a big deal to go watch a game.