–by Chelsea Lauren
I like to think diversity makes the world go round – and I think most people would agree. We owe a lot to diverse backgrounds for influencing our pop culture, our lifestyles, and even some of the food we eat (within a 10-mile radius of the Advantage I can get a taste of three different continents).
I’ve learned through my friend, Lourdes University grad student of business administration and marketing/International Student Service Specialist, Henrique Gerkhe, that I often take my privileges as an American citizen for granted.
Gerkhe traveled to Lourdes University from Brazil in 2017. “The process of becoming an international college student in America was not easy for me, and honestly I hope other students have had a smoother experience than me,” said Gerkhe.
In the college-bound playing-field – where competition among applicants is already high – the value of American secondary education is exceptional in countries such as Brazil, so to pursue an international education is a lengthy and costly investment.
“One of the first steps in the process is finding a sponsor to advocate for you and financially back you to study in America – and this process may be the most competitive step. Most sponsors select students based on degree program interest. So, for me to study business administration I tried finding business-career-focused sponsors. But I also had the benefit of having an interest in playing collegiate volleyball.”
Another difficult part of the approval process is getting American colleges to notice applicants. “You have to really show schools why they should want you there when recruiting American students is so much easier and cheaper. For most international students, sports and athletic skills are the key deal-makers. Almost all American colleges have sports departments so it’s important to plan ahead while in high school and develop an impressive athletic record if you’re planning to study abroad. A lot of hind-sight planning is necessary in this process. Some international students earn an Associate’s degree in their home country first to have a more prominent application,” Gerkhe explained.
Adjusting to American college life after getting accepted doesn’t always start smoothly for international students, either. “Homesickness is difficult to manage – especially when you’re so far away from home. Face-timing on the phone and bringing pieces of home with you can help, but it’s not the same, and transporting to and from home across nations can have its hiccups. I remember one year during Thanksgiving break I had booked a flight home to Brazil to see my family for the first time in months since I had started school, and because of a mismanaged paperwork issue outside of my control, I almost couldn’t catch a flight back to school in time for classes the following Monday.”
With so many challenges within the process of getting approved to study in America, let alone being so far from home, and not having English as a first language for some, one has to wonder why international students tread through and continue studying in the states. The investment is worth it according to Gerkhe. “There are hardships that come with studying internationally, but an American degree almost guarantees me a job back home in my desired career field. And despite hardships like homesickness and language development, I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot as a person through experiences I know I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed in Brazil for school.”
It seems like Gerkhe’s perseverance is benefiting future international students at Lourdes as well. “I won’t be the International Student Service Specialist forever, but by advocating for students who have had experience like mine I hope I can start building a solid foundation for the role and help Lourdes improve their international student resources.”
I’m proud of Lourdes University for promising an improved and supportive resource for international students who not only diversify our community, but also make this hidden gem, the town of Sylvania, a home for everyone.