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Even though I had visited the US several times before moving here for school, there were a lot of things that surprised me when I started college. As it turns out, it’s very different visiting a country for several weeks during summer break than actually living there for several months at a time. Higher education is really different in countries around the world. Being that I never attended college in my home country, I really can’t compare between the two, but I can tell you some of the things that took me by surprise my first year of school.

Most people don’t really dress up for class

This might seem a little dumb, but I can’t even begin to express how much I love being able to wear Nike shorts and running shoes to class. But when I started school, this was a foreign concept to me. I don’t think I even wore shorts at all to class during my first semester. Back home, most people dress really nicely to class, to the point where some professors consider it disrespectful if you wear shorts or flip flops. And while I admire that, there are some mornings I just don’t have enough energy to try and look decent.
Even though a lot of people do dress nicely for class, it’s just great to be able to wear yoga pants and a big t-shirt from time to time (or every day).

There are far less girls in my class than I expected

My high school really put a big emphasis in subjects like calculus, physics, and chemistry, and half (if not more than half) of my graduating class were girls. Most of my high school friends are studying some engineering or medicine, and that includes the girls. Most universities in my country that teach engineering do have more guys than girls, but the ratio is probably around 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 guys to girls.

So, when I walked into my intro to mechanical engineering class, I was really surprised (and a little bit intimidated, frankly) when I only saw one other girl. I was the only girl in my Thermo II class, and the list goes on and on. I don’t know why this is, because all of the girls I’ve met in my classes are as capable (if not more) than the guys, but I’m just glad there are so many initiatives that inspire young girls to take an interest in STEM related subjects.

Camo (and hunting) are a much bigger thing than I ever imagined

I go to school in the South, so it makes sense, but it was still a new thing for me. Before starting school, I had never really traveled to the South except for Disney World, so I was really surprised to see how many people wear camo around campus. Honestly, I’d never even seen camo before, expect in Crocs, so I was amazed to see half my class wearing camo jackets when it started getting cold. This one was a pretty big culture shock for me.

People are much, much nicer than I thought they would be

Especially coming from a warm Latin American country, where everyone is ridiculously friendly, I think a lot of people have the misconception that Americans can be cold and sometimes even rude to others, particularly to foreigners. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I’ve been living in Louisiana for almost two and half years now, and I’ve met some of the nicest people ever. One of my favorite things is that almost every guy is going to hold the door open for you. Even if they’re just being nice, isn’t that the cutest thing ever? And mostly everyone is super helpful all of the time.

You are going to miss home

This is not really a misconception about the US, but more about leaving home. A big part of me thought that I really wasn’t going to miss home all that much because I was used to being away from my parents, even if it only was for shorter periods of time. And for the most part I’ve been fine, but sometimes it hits you, and you realize you won’t be able to see your family for several more months, and that can be really hard to deal with. Missing home is just part of life, and it’s completely normal. Remember there are probably many resources at your school is homesickness ever feels like too much to handle.

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the author

Clarissa Gallardo is a sophomore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Originally from Panama City, Panama (only place in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set on the Atlantic!), she is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Mathematics and Ballet. A member of the Honors Program and dancer at heart, you can find her studying at the library, scrolling through her Tumblr feed , dancing, or reading. Clarissa has a really bad case of wanderlust and is obsessed with white chocolate mochas, The Big Bang Theory, and Doctor Reid from Criminal Minds. You can follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.

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