Baylor across borders: International student finds home on campus

Monterrey, Mexico, senior Priscila de Alba poses with her parents and sister. De Alba, originally from Mexico, shared some of her experiences and how she has adjusted to life in America and at Baylor. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

By Brianna Bassett | Reporter

Many students call Baylor a home away from home, and Monterrey, Mexico, senior Priscila de Alba is no exception. De Alba shares her experience going to school in a different country and reflects on how, through different communities and her Baylor family, she has found a home away from home at Baylor.

How did you make the decision to go to Baylor?

I was already accepted into the University of Mexico in Monterrey, but if I got into Baylor, then I was going to Baylor, and I didn’t think I was going to get accepted, but then I did.

What has been the biggest challenge of going to school in a different country?

The culture shock. I lived very close to the U.S., so I was thinking it wasn’t going to be as much of a culture shock, but I really wanted to get immersed in American culture, so I decided to not have any Latin friends for the first two years. I really had to learn and not take things personal. I started to notice I would take things personal that weren’t meant to be. I just learned really quickly.

What have been some of the cultural differences you noticed right away?

Well, I feel like the hugs is the first thing that comes up, because when we say hello to someone, we give a cheek kiss and we front hug. So I came here and started doing that, and people thought it was weird.

How did you get involved as a freshman when you first came to Baylor?

Honestly, there were so many things. I felt like I found a really great community with my church and my sorority, and I just felt like people were interested in knowing more about another culture. I wanted to know more about their culture, so it was this mutual thing of us wanting to know more about each other. It was a learning experience, and they weren’t expecting me to know everything.

Where have you found your most supportive community at Baylor?

I would say through church, and I was really hungry to have strong community being away from home. I knew Baylor was a place I could find family away from family, so really quickly I went to church, and I started having those relationships with different people through life groups, college service and things like that.

They really just wanted to know about my life and what things I struggled with, and they wanted me to grow in my experience, and they were older than me so I admired them. I just wanted to take in as much as they could show me. I was like a sponge, just learning everything I can. It was amazing, and now I get to be that for other people.

How is dating different in Mexico?

It is a sequence of events that happen. So you start hanging out, you’re very good friends and you go on dates. But you don’t really call them dates and you are not exclusively “dating” that person. Then you tell that person that you love them, but it’s like less than I love you, it’s an “I like you.” Then you keep going on dates.

It’s a much longer process than in the States. Then from there, they tell you that they love you, you always have a talk of how many children you want to have, and that they love you and want to marry you. And then you become boyfriend/girlfriend. They always ask you to be their girlfriend; they never just assume that you are.

Spanish is your first language. When did you learn English?

I kind of learned it in school, but my teachers had very strong Spanish accents. My parents speak English, and I would get home and start telling them what I learned and they would say, “Priscila, that’s not how you say it.”

I learned bad English growing up, but coming to Baylor and having American friends, I was like, “Correct me. I don’t care; correct me,” and they would constantly help me. I feel like you could barely understand my English freshman year, and now I feel like we can have a good conversation.

How has the language barrier been for you?

My first class ever at Baylor was speech, and we had to give a speech every day. I remember driving to Baylor for the first time, and my dad asked me to call someone on the phone from Baylor. I start speaking, and when I hung up he started laughing. He was like, “Priscila, why are you faking your English? That’s not how you speak,” and my mom turned and hit him in the arm and was like, “That’s how she speaks.”

So having my first class be speech class – it was going to be horrible. I was shaking, and I thought everyone was just going to laugh, but after the first speech, everyone said that my English was good, and I thought, “OK, maybe it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I would practice every day, and I am very cautious of the way I [pronounce] things. So when I’m tired, you cannot understand me, but when I am awake and clear, I am like, “OK, this is the way I need to speak and be clear.”

Since there was a language barrier, how did you decide on your communications major?

I chose my major because of that speech class freshman year. I loved that speech class, and I love how it is challenging for me, so it’s not something that just comes easy. I was in speech classes in high school, and I was so bad, and it was a challenge for me to want to be better. It was a good type of challenge.

What was the biggest sacrifice you had to make going to school in a different country?

I would say being away from my family. My mom and dad would always come home from work, and we would all sit down and talk together. And there was so much space for them to correct me or tell me what their opinion was, and we would just talk for hours at night. Then coming here and not having that, and I was worried. What if I am messing up? Who is going to correct me in my life?

I still feel so young, and I’m still messing up a lot and I still need people to tell me that’s not what I should be doing. So being far away from family and just missing that strong bond because being on the phone and FaceTime is not the same thing.

What did you do to set yourself up to be successful at Baylor, and what advice would you give to another student who is looking to go to school in another country?

I think I’m still trying to figure out, but I think the main thing is knowing that you are not alone. For the longest time, I always felt like I was alone because I had to go study and I had to read over the chapter a lot more times than I would have to if I was reading it in Spanish. But I would say, just knowing there are other people struggling with the same things. So figuring out a group in your class and making friends that you can study with and going into office hours. The teachers blew my mind, and that’s not an experience I had in Mexico – just them really wanting you to succeed. They would be like, “Yes, you can call me. You can text me whatever time.” I thought, “They’re like my friends.”

I feel like I was able to make it through Baylor because of my friends, the community and the professors being willing to go above and beyond to teach a class and really wanting me to understand.

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