You think you know English, but then you come to America. Vanessa quickly learned that TOEFL can’t prepare you for everything, but she’s definitely not giving up anytime soon. Even if people give her strange looks.
Vanessa Zapata Franca is an international student studying at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. She is currently studying biomedical engineering. Vanessa wrote the following article for ISV. The ISV staff also had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa in person and at the end of the article you will find more details of her successes and challenges of studying in America.
To come to the USA, I got a full scholarship that pays not only my school, but also my housing and general expenses. Before coming, I had to take the TOEFL exam. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really prepared for that! I took several particular classes with a professor that used to live in the USA before giving classes in Brazil. It was only him and I for at least two hours daily, studying English and he would persuade me to speak only English during classes, however I would always switch to my native language, it was easier.
Once I passed that exam, my grade wasn’t the best, so my scholarship scheduled a phone interview with me. I would spend hours on Skype with my sister practicing what questions they would ask and so preparing the answers. At that time, I could only speak if I had a paper and a pen on hands to prepare what I was going to say.
Finally I came to the United States of America. The first weeks were awesome, my parents had come with me for my sister’s graduation and we would only speak Portuguese between us. When I started visiting school and meeting new people that the biggest problem started, I couldn’t understand half of what people would say! I’ll always remember the first time I went to Starbucks with my sister, what I understood from what the lady said: BLA BLA BLA BLU BLA? And my reaction: BLU… WHAT?
Yeah, it was not easy. The hardest was not even to understand people, but to make people understand me. My lovely advisor registered me to my speech class my first semester. That was my nightmare, but I guess that helped me to be more confident. And just to clarify how scared I was of that class, one day I was sick, and almost didn’t have voice, but it was my day to give the speech. I was so nervous and unconfident, since I didn’t have voice, that right on my last sentence of the speech I believed my whole speech was a disaster, and started crying. Yes, embarrassing.
There are things that we can and will easily overcome; every difficulty just makes you stronger. However, there are things that will always be with you. For example, after 2 years being here and having clear English that most people can understand, I refuse to ask anything in class. I just hate to ask something and the teacher looks at you with that interrogation face and asks, Humm… WHAT?
Even with so many bad and sometimes, scary experiences I wouldn’t change them for nothing! I’m a more mature girl than when I came here; I was literally the daddy’s girl. My friends didn’t believe I had to cook and clean by myself. Life changes, and if you don’t learn how to get the good part of every bad experience, you’ll never understand why that can change your life. And currently, I can say, nothing can stop me!
ISV’s follow up interview with Vanessa on 12/05/11.
ISV: Can you explain how you heard about the scholarship that led you to study in America?
Vanessa: The scholarship is from the Timken Company in Canton, Ohio. My dad worked for the branch of the company in Brazil. Only family members could apply for this scholarship.
ISV: Were you the only Brazilian in your classes? How did it make you feel?
Vanessa: Yes, at the beginning it was fun. Then you miss your culture and your friends. My sister is also here, but I am interacting with people not from Brazil most of the time.
ISV: Who were some other students in your classes?
Vanessa: There were a lot of Chinese, Indian and I was friends with one Romanian girl. This was for the class English composition for international students. This is different than ESL. I did well on my TOEFL so I was able to take composition.
ISV: Do you have many American friends?
Vanessa: Dave is my only American friend. From my experience, it’s just a cultural difference. Americans come off as cold. It’s hard to make American friends.
ISV: What advice do you have for other international students?
Vanessa: I had to find the courage to make it happen. I had to change my major and forced myself to give speeches. Now I can do [these things]. It just takes practice. Also don’t be scared of faces. You are better than that.
ISV: What are your future plans?
Vanessa: I just bought a new car. A 2007 Ford Fusion. I was able to save the money on my own, which was the best thing. I am working on my CPT papers so I can work. I also work on campus at the Dean of Engineering office. I plan to graduate and look for a job here. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’ll try.