Going to college can be a life-altering decision for many young adults. Leaving family, moving to a new place, and being independent can seem daunting. It can be even more difficult for international students, especially when English is their second language.
Flavia Portugal is a freshman studying communication at BYU-Idaho. She is an international student from Arequipa, Peru.
According to Britannica, Arequipa is a city in the south of Peru that is “in the Chili River valley of the Andes Mountains. Arequipa lies at more than 7,550 feet … above sea level, at the foot of the dormant cone of Misti Volcano, which reaches an elevation of 19,098 feet.” It is the second-largest city in Peru.
Portugal comes from a relatively small family. Her parents and younger sister currently live in Peru.
Portugal mentioned some differences between her hometown and Rexburg.
“It’s very different,” Portugal said. “There is lots of public transport. It’s not like every person has a vehicle. The houses are very close to each other. The houses are brightly colored. They are mixed colors that don’t match. I live in the city, but there are areas where it’s all green and full of nature.”
Portugal was surprised that nearly every household had between two and three vehicles. In her family, they only have one vehicle.
According to Nation Master, Peru only had 73 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2014, compared to the U.S. having 797 vehicles per 1,000 people.
The biggest difference, Portugal said, is how different the people are
“We as Peruvians, in general, Latinos, are very warm,” Portugal said. “There is a lot of contact. Another thing is I greet everyone (which is) the definition of being well-mannered in Peru. They teach since you are young, you have to enter a place and greet everyone. We give each other a kiss on the cheek, we hug and playfully tease each other. And when you leave, you say goodbye to everyone. We say please and thank you with always a lot of gratitude. It is the form in which we express our mannerisms.”
Since she came to Idaho, Portugal said she is adjusting to life here and doesn’t expect the world to adjust to her.
She said she decided to come to BYU-I for three main reasons. First, she liked that it was a church school. Second, compared to other universities, BYU-I is more affordable. Third, she said that in her country, it has become difficult to study due to so many universities being closed or discredited.
Portugal’s family views her college education as a worthwhile investment.
Portugal said she chose to major in communication because there are so many options to choose from. One of her dreams is to be a travel blogger and visit different parts of the world.
But overall, she said it has been difficult fitting in and adapting to this new culture.
“I feel alone here because I feel that I can’t truly be myself because they won’t understand me,” Portugal said. “I am still not accustomed. The culture is just so different and people are so different, it’s difficult adapting to being here.”
When it comes to food, Portugal said she misses fresh food from her home such as “aji de gallina,” which is Peruvian chicken stew, and “lomo saltado,” which is a stir-fry that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin with onions, tomatoes, french fries and other ingredients. She said she has not eaten anything as delicious as the food she is used to back home.
“I miss my friends and family, but more than everything I miss the feeling of belonging in a family,” Portugal said. “I feel super lonely.”
Portugal’s roommate Emily Tuttle, a freshman majoring in general studies is trying to make her feel more included
Tuttle said, “When I watched a movie the other night, we watched it in Spanish with English subtitles because that works well for both of us.”
“I ask for people to be considerate and respectful,” said Portugal when talking about her and other international students getting accustomed to BYU-I.
Here at BYU-I, there are International Services to help international students with everything from applying for school to helping with visa info, helping with employment and offering many other services.
It’s important to be considerate of others, especially when they are not accustomed to our culture and are still in the process of assimilation.