As you all know (if you’ve read my bio), I am from Santiago, Chile and that puts me in a small group, international students. Here at Notre Dame, that means that I'm one student in a group that makes only about 6% of the student body. My hometown is 5,000 miles away from South Bend, and I only get to see my family for Christmas and summer. Being this far from home, immersed in a different country, with a different language, and a slightly different culture can be challenging sometimes.
The challenges present themselves everywhere, even when you try to buy coffee and the Starbucks barista asks for your name. Oh boy! I don’t understand why, but my name seems to be a mystery for Americans. They write all kind of things, Google, Hudo, Doodle, Uro, and so on. It didn’t take long for me to stop saying Hugo and say my middle name Antonio instead (I usually say Tony) in order to save myself (and the barista for that matter) from rolling my eyes to them. But the struggle goes beyond my not being able to get a latte under my name. Most people overlook how hard it is to study and live in one’s second language. One can adapt to a certain degree, but the accent and the occasional mistakes or verbal awkwardness remain.
I would be lying to you if I told you that I don’t experience difficulties. Being at Notre Dame takes a lot of effort, and even more for international students such as myself. Nevertheless, it is most definitely worth it. Like when a couple of weeks ago there was another big earthquake in Chile, and several friends contacted me asking if my family back home was safe. There are no words to describe how you feel when you are surrounded by people that care about you so far away from home.
Furthermore, this expands to an everyday basis. Being Chilean here became a well-received salient characteristic for me. A lot of Notre Dame students want to expand their connections beyond their familiar surroundings to people with different backgrounds, cultures, religions, or/and languages. Besides the fact that people here are open and willing to make an effort to make you feel included in the Notre Dame family, there is a vast number of international student clubs and groups (ie. Brazil Club, Arabic Club, Chinese Culture Society, etc.) in which you can connect with other international students and people that in someway or another remind you of home. I can not only celebrate Chilean independence day, but can also enjoy different activities such as soccer tournaments, food, or simply talk to people that are interested in my country, and therefore are interested in me.