Being an international student at UT, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been

I called my parents and told them I wanted to live in Austin forever

“You’re choosing Texas?” my friend said to me. “Really?”

I explained to her it was by far the best choice out of the schools I had been accepted to: it was a cutting-edge research university, I could not handle the Northeast cold well, I had an older friend already there, it was an incredible school for literally any major I could pick and I was still undeclared – most of all, however, it had a vibrant student life, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

I couldn’t deny that I was apprehensive, though. Would people in Texas be accepting of someone from such a different place? It’s unfair, but sometimes those of us born outside the US have negative perceptions of Americans’ open-mindedness. I was afraid no one would be able to relate to me.

In the best of cases, I might become someone’s token foreign friend, always committing strange mishaps in the way I thought and acted, with odd pop culture gaps, the recipient of constant contempt from those around me. I thought of how much I would have to justify my presence there – I went to one of the best schools in Mexico, I received an IB diploma, I had an SAT score of 2210 – I wasn’t stealing someone’s spot, I deserved to be there. Images of me ending up friendless and spending my life binge-watching Pretty Little Liars in my dorm room flashed through my head as I imagined myself as a victim of disdain from the UT community. Still, I waited with excitement as freshman orientation approached.

There are several orientation sessions for students at UT. The last of them is for international students. However, I wanted to go to one of the “regular” student orientations, and I don’t regret it.

During orientation, I met so many friendly people, and not a single one I did not like. My experience at UT mostly followed the same tone. There is a culture of school spirit and community in this university that I never expected, and I was swept in it, attending football games and actually understanding the game, and acquiring a particular taste for burnt orange. I joined organizations and went to events and made friends easily, not so much to my own credit, but rather to the credit of everyone else.

It turned out the people at UT were definitely not who I expected them to be. I had never met people as kind and welcoming as those I met in Texas. Southern hospitality is real, y’all. Even the token foreign friend narrative, the best case scenario in my head, was completely opposite to what really happened.

Some people were genuinely interested in my background, having lived in three different countries. No one ever treated me any differently than they would have treated their own friends. I called my parents and told them I wanted to live in Austin forever. The prospect of only having three more years until I inevitably graduate with the rest of the Class of 2019 definitely makes me sad.

Having lived outside my home country of Brazil since I was eleven years old, I have frequently felt like a foreigner, an outsider, or a new kid. Even when I go back to my hometown every two years or so, I feel out of place. I know the landscapes and the places; my first language is the same as that of the people who live there, and I even speak it with the same gaucho accent. But something is always different. I am a foreigner in my own hometown.

Miraculously, somehow, I do not feel like a foreigner at UT. It will not be my home forever. It is still my home for now, though, and I am excited to wear cowboy boots and cheer for the Longhorns on game day, I am excited to attend lectures and participate in events, I am excited to deepen the friendships I have and bond with new people. I am even excited for another semester spending my Monday nights slaving away on a lab report in the library.

Studies show that college students who form strong social bonds and feel part of a community in their universities are much, much less likely to drop out or even to perform badly in class. On my part, I am proud to be part of the Longhorn family.

UT Austin