Forsyth Tech international student shares his pandemic journey

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One of the best parts of being an international student is sharing my culture with others while learning about theirs. Costa Rica is a small country in Central America with a population of around 5 million. It’s no wonder Costa Ricans often joke that we’re all sort of “cousins” and it’s easy for us to “know everyone”. Because I studied at an American school in Costa Rica, the culture here was not completely foreign to me when I returned in December 2020. I also lived in North Carolina for a few years when I was in college with my mother and my grandmother. Nevertheless, coming back as an adult to study in a place that has always felt like my second home has been an interesting journey that I am delighted to share.

A journey through educational variety

Graduating from high school at Lincoln School in Costa Rica in 2010 – as the United States was beginning to recover from the Great Recession – made my dream of studying abroad uncertain. The daughter of a hardworking elementary school teacher and single mother, my opportunities to come to the United States as an undergraduate student were limited; a harsh reality to accept after years of hard work and academic excellence. “Your time will come,” my mother used to say, and little did I know that, almost ten years later, I would be here to make that dream come true.

I had the chance to experience public and private college education. I earned a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy from the University of Costa Rica, one of the largest universities in the country and the highest ranked in Central America. With a student population of approximately 45,000 between undergraduate and graduate students, the school has a very dynamic environment. Going to a big school was fun because it allowed me to make friends with diverse interests. However, I often felt like I was just a number rather than a person with goals and dreams that belong to me.

I continued my education with a graduate degree from Santa Paula University, a much smaller private institution specializing in related health sciences. The highly qualified teachers provided a rigorous academic and professional environment, which I appreciated. It was also my first encounter with the sense of community that an institution could offer because faculty and staff invested time in getting to know their students individually. For this reason, Santa Paula University will always hold a special place in my heart.

Shortly after graduation, I established my private practice in Costa Rica. In the process, I discovered that my preparation as a physical therapist had been stellar, but I knew absolutely nothing about owning a business. Starting and running a business has been a wonderful experience that has inspired me to discover many aspects of life outside of my field. Suddenly I learned about taxes, planning, record keeping, marketing, customer service and so much more. There was a lot to learn, and I really wanted to learn these tools rather than discover them as I went along.

Pandemic move

My mother already living in North Carolina, it seemed logical to turn to the institutions of the region. Through my research, I discovered that many programs had prerequisite courses like economics and accounting, and a few other courses that I had never taken. Forsyth Technical Community College’s associate’s degree program would allow me to take some of these general courses at a lower cost and prepare me more effectively for my next educational steps. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to shut down my professional services for months, there seemed to be no better time to start my journey. I applied and was accepted, and my move to Winton-Salem began just months later.

Moving during a pandemic was difficult. Although I was accepted to Forsyth Tech in early 2020, student visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy can only be scheduled 120 days prior to the start of the academic program. In March 2020 the whole world went into pandemic mode, embassies closed, flights were grounded and I was devastated.

Weekly calls to the embassy asking for information have become the norm. With August fast approaching and after having my request for an emergency appointment denied, I realized how difficult it would be to move. I postponed my departure for six months to allow things to return to “normal”, which we are all looking forward to almost two years later.

Much more than a community college

Forsyth Tech is a much smaller institution than the two colleges I attended before. Nevertheless, over the past year, I have enjoyed some of the benefits of attending a small institution. Forsyth Tech is like much more than an educational institution; we feel like at home. True to Southern hospitality, from my very first visit asking for information to my last final of the year, the staff and teachers went above and beyond to make me feel like I belonged . With a plethora of activities to suit every student, there is always something going on. Although my first semester was mostly distance learning, I never felt like an outsider as Forsyth Tech’s student life and engagement team found clever ways to unite students at across screens and devices.

At the end of my first semester, I was invited to join Forsyth Tech’s Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society. PTK is an honor society for two-year institutions that provides tools for students to thrive in academic and professional environments. Shortly after my arrival, I joined the management team. With an emphasis on scholarship, leadership, camaraderie, and service, PTK has allowed me to make friends in a new country, experience my surroundings, and give back to the community.

This year I was also chosen to represent the student body as one of Forsyth Tech’s Student Ambassadors. Through this role, I got to know my community of fellow students as well as the individuals and foundations that make the magic happen. As I learn more about Forsyth County, I fall in love with all it has to offer. These two opportunities allow me to share my culture with others, which I believe is essential for any international student.

After Forsyth Tech, I hope to pursue a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing, ideally while staying in North Carolina. Although it still takes a few months to decide which institution to go to, financial aid and scholarships for international students are scarce. With many out-of-state tuition starting at $30,000 per year, choosing a school can seem overwhelming, especially when student visas limit work opportunities.

Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that my hard work, desire to learn, and desire to give back to the community will not go unnoticed. I hope another amazing institution like Forsyth Tech will try my luck.

Gloriana Ordonez Carboni

Gloriana Ordóñez Carboni is a student at Forsyth Technical Community College studying Business Administration and Marketing. She is from San José, Costa Rica.

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