Students find ‘home’ in Waco

Baylor University attracts students from all over the world. Pictured from left to right are Salvador, Brazil, freshman Joao Moraes with his girlfriend, Jemima, junior Jess Schurz who was born in South Africa but grew up in Zambia and Beijing, China, freshman Savina Chen.

By Didi Martinez | Digital Managing Editor

Salvador, Brazil, freshman Joao Moraes was playing the violin in his room when his father gave him an ultimatum: learn English or say goodbye to music lessons.

“I started learning English when I was 12,” Moraes said. “I didn’t want to learn English at all. But my father pushed me to learn English just to get a better job and stuff.”

Moraes, whose full name is Joao Pedro Costa Grillo Moraes, said he went to a three-hour class twice a week for four and a half years to learn English. Chewing on a slice of dining hall pizza while wearing a Baylor pullover, Moraes admits he had never heard of the university until his sophomore year of high school. At the suggestion of his academic counselor, he explored the possibility of moving to Waco.

“I was thinking of applying to an Ivy League college,” Moraes said, “but then [my academic counselor] talked to me and said, ‘I realize that your faith is very important to you, so why don’t you consider a Christian school?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, why not?’”

Nearly three years later, Moraes has found home in North Russell Hall as part of the Baylor & Beyond LLC, where he lives alongside other international students and globally-minded individuals. It was at the front desk of North Russell that he met his friend and community leader junior Jess Schurz, who would exchange stories with him about their first football game and classes.

Schurz was born overseas in South Africa and moved to Zambia at age 8. Her American parents are pastors and run a Bible school in Africa. With extended family and friends an ocean away, Schurz said she came back to the United States every summer, but her freshman year of college was the first time she lived within the country. Immediately, she was able to point out ways the United States differed from Zambia.

“One of the main things I noticed is just how distracted we are in America,” Schurz said. “There is a lot more that competes for our attention. [In Zambia] there’s less distractions. It’s a more peaceful atmosphere; it’s a slower pace.”

Back in Zambia, people run on what she jokes is “Zambian time” — where being late 30 minutes to an hour is the norm.

By growing up in another country, Schurz is able to better understand her international peers as a community leader and see the initial discomfort that comes with starting something new.

“I think our job toward them is the same as our American residents in that we want them to find a home at Baylor,” Schurz said. “I think it’s just asking more questions, being more open-minded, being more sensitive. Just because the adjustment is so much bigger.”

For freshman Savina Chen, getting to know people was one of the biggest obstacles she had to face. This past fall, Chen packed two bags full of belongings and made the trip from Beijing, China, to Texas. She lived out her first semester at Heritage House in North Village, where she said it was hard to connect with her roommates.

“Because I did not grow up here, I sometimes found it a little bit hard to have the same topic as them,” Chen said. “Because they are so friendly, sometimes we ate at Penland or something together. But if you talk for a long time, maybe you will feel embarrassed because … no same topic.”

Gradually, Chen said she was able to make friends through her classes and organizations. Most notably, she said, are her friends from the Asian Ministry InterVarsity who helped her discern a relationship with God.

“In China, we do not know something about God,” said Chen, who grew up as an atheist. “It means nothing because in my country they taught me we need to believe in science. At first, I thought that religion or the Bible is ridiculous because there are some things that are contrast to science. I just thought, ‘It can’t happen. It’s not the real thing,’ but when I studied for a long time, I think my mind changed a little bit and then changed more and more.”

With so much newness around her, Chen said she often finds herself missing aspects of her life back home.

“I really miss the food because it’s so different,” Chen said. “I do not like the food in here, and sometimes I try to make the Chinese food, but my roommate, she really does not like that. She cannot bear the smell or something else because it’s so different.”