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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Triumphs and Disappointments of Being an Italian International Exchange Student at UMass Boston

From left: Chao Shan, Julia Kauffman, Julyanna Andrade, Francio Rodrigues and Henrique Volpato de Castilho

UMass Boston has more than 50 students participating in exchange programs from more than 9 different countries this semester. I am one of those students.

I had heard that it might take a while to actually find a place to live on the east coast, so I decided to come to Boston early this August. What I heard was true; summer on the east coast would have been great if it wasn’t for all the stress involved with looking for a place to live.

Every student who has come to UMass Boston from a different country and has had to look for a place to stay knows the deal. You go on craigslist.com, respond to 30 ads a day and probably get around one answer back. When you go to see the place after actually getting a response, it turns out to be the size of a shoebox with a price tag of $1,000 a month. After you finally decide on a place, someone else had already moved in. The process is pretty frustrating, especially when you’re about 5,000 miles away from home.

It was a nightmare for almost all the exchange students I’ve spoken with. “We had very little help from the university,” said Christiane Mutshlechner, a marketing major from Italy. “I found my room online, but it was very hard.”

Living on campus at UMass Boston is not exactly an option, and it seems to be a recurring disappointment among many international students. “I was disappointed,” said Francio Rodrigues, an engineering major from Brazil. “I would have liked to live on campus.”

Julyanna Andrade, a biology major from Brazil said, “I really would have liked to live on campus. Maybe we would have made more American friends.”

Regardless, with the stress of house hunting left behind, I grew to enjoy living in Boston. The city has so much to offer – sometimes it was hard to decide what to do next. It was so fun to discover who makes the best cannoli in the North End, the cheapest beer in Cambridge, which stand sells the juiciest berries at Haymarket and the best karaoke in Dorchester.

When I finally stepped onto campus at UMass Boston for the first time, it was a beautiful sunny day. The campus was quiet, but it didn’t fail to impress me with its modern architecture, beautiful Harbor Walk and the outdoor sculptures.

The other exchange students I spoke with were happy with UMass Boston too. Mutshlechner was struck by the landscape and said, “I love that the university is by the sea. I come from a mountain area, so I like to be so close to the ocean.”

Henrique Volpato de Castilho, a computer science major from Brazil was impressed by the structure and amenities of the university. He said, “Everything is accessible to people with disabilities. Brazil is just starting to be like this.”

Sarah Danz, an applied linguistics major from Germany said, “There’s so much diversity! I lived in the U.S. before, but the area was kind of boring. Here it’s very multicultural and young.”

When classes started I was very surprised. Why was my professor asking my name? Why do I have to sign in for attendance? Homework, seriously? In Italy the teaching structure in universities is very different. There is little to no relationship between students and professors, attendance is rarely taken and there is no homework; your preparation depends only on you.

Julia Kauffman, a business student from Germany said, “Professors here are more like teachers. They care about you.” She added, “They really want to know your name. This never happens in Brazil.”

Based on my own experiences, most professors in Europe think of themselves as knowledge deities and behave accordingly. Here in the United States professors are much more approachable and willing to help. This is refreshing to say the least.

Classes here are not just lectures on a certain topic. They are influenced by every student’s contribution. This makes classes in the United States more dynamic and more fun, according to some of the international students.

Now, almost three months after our arrival, we have somehow adjusted to this new setting. We feel like we are now part of it.

“Everyone talks to you. It’s easy to make new friends,” said Danz. “There’s so much to learn inside and outside of the classes.”

Being an exchange student is a lot of fun. There are some obstacles from time to time, which is why exchange students tend to stick together. Nonetheless, the American students we have met so far have been great about showing us new places to go, helping us to understand American culture and providing dance lessons in Gangnam Style.