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EducationUSA Academy 2019 Essay Contest Winner: You Are Welcome Here

In June 2019, Temple University’s Center for Language and Culture welcomed high school students from across the world to participate in EducationUSA Academy, a State Department program to help international students learn about American culture and how to apply for American universities. During their stay, Freely Magazine held an essay contest asking students to reflect on cross-cultural experiences and their own culture. We are thrilled to announce Camila Maldonado as the winner! Here is her story:

First, we did not even know where our countries were located on the map, and we struggled to pronounce everyone’s names correctly. Now, we have even given nicknames to each other. 

While getting ready for these three weeks at Temple University for the EducationUSA Academy Program, I was anxious for the cross-cultural experience that was awaiting me. But nothing could have prepared me for what I found. Coming from Paraguay in the heart of South America I was amazed by the multicultural types of citizenships I saw on the street, but it was a huge surprise to meet teenagers from countries all over the world such as Congo, Luxembourg, Croatia, Taiwan, Japan and so on. I soon realized how different our cultures were, but most importantly how similar we were.

 This fusion helped me not only to reflect on my own culture but also to be mindful of how I come across to other people. English was the bridge that supported our communication throughout these three weeks and the United States our home to create our friendship. That was our first similarity, we were all in the same program with the same purpose: improving our English skills and learning about the application process for US universities. This mix of cultures made me more culturally aware as I talked and debated with the other participants. Cultural awareness is as a way to avoid any prejudice or misconceptions.

I put this awareness into practice the first week of the program during our small event called “Culture Share: Food from my Country”. We shared popular snacks from our countries, an explosion of salty and sweet flavors were the dishes of the night, paying attention to the stories behind them told by all my fellow classmates. Between laughs and approvals, we tried everything while we shared the meaning behind each of our countries’ flags. 

We all experienced the cultural shock in different ways since for all of us it was our first time in Philly. We got used to walking to class on time while listening to the sound of the subway under our feet, trying different plates around campus, or asking ourselves why toilets here had so much more water in them than back home.  During the second week I had the amazing opportunity to visit museums and historical places, and not only did I appreciate the marvelous pieces of art, but I was also able to understand the words written in Arabian, Japanese, and Chinese thanks to the diverse group of people we had. 

The funniest part of our adaptation was when going for lunch every day while listening to songs in Spanish and English, learning new vocabulary; while waiting for the first one to turn their face red after trying a new sauce that was spicier than expected. During these lunch hours, we compared our situations in our home countries, giving us a better understanding of how our own background related to others. Additionally, since we were all about the same age, we could simply switch the conversation from pop culture to the political issues of the moment. I have to say that what I will miss the most are these switches because I have always wanted to find people with whom to have endless conversations about relevant or irrelevant topics.

Sharing almost eighteen hours each day with youth ambassadors from all over the world including our chaperones, was one of the most enriching lessons I have ever had in my life, it pushed me to think thoughtfully about myself, and I learned to appreciate and value my own customs, but most importantly to look further on how to achieve and become a better person. 

As a Paraguayan student, I was able to immerse myself in each culture thanks to the curiosity and willingness to learn that characterizes each of us. Thus, by asking questions over and over again or answering questions that were asked to me, all while making sure to present the best version of me, we were able to connect with each other’s curiosity.

What I realized after my first week here is that this country is made up of diverse people, and that is what makes it attractive and cozy, especially at Temple University. No matter where you come from, or what you’re interested in, there is a place for you at Temple. 

After this experience, I know for certain that I am welcome here. Though our cultures diverge from each other greatly, a desire to achieve our personal goals united us. These three weeks were the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I learned to look beyond just the color of the skin, habits, food or clothes, and at the same time to proudly show who I am and where I came from. A big aguije to all the community at Temple University for showing me that family is where you feel loved. 

Aguije: Thank you in guarani (Paraguay’s second official language) 

Editor’s Note: Camila was featured on the Intensive English Language Program’s social media where she shared interesting facts about herself and her home country of Paraguay! https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz-tQ2Djza8/