By Mary Pineda
Senior Staff Writer
Emilio Alejandro Abarca is one of the 700 international students who study at Brookhaven College, according to the Brookhaven website. He was born in Guerrero, Mexico.
Abarca visited the United States in 2008. He lived near Brookhaven and decided to visit the campus. During his visit, Abarca started the process to become an international student.
“It was a long, difficult process,” Abarca said.
Abarca met Daphne Bennett, who worked in the Multicultural Center. Bennett guided him through the process of getting into the international program for students. “She was like my angel who encouraged me to study here,” Abarca said.
Before he could be accepted into the program, Abarca had to find a sponsor willing to pay $17,000 for a student visa to study in the U.S.
After a month of consideration, Abarca’s uncle was willing to help. Abarca was required to file an I-20 application to show evidence of financial support and take the Texas Success Initiative test, a performance measurement test required by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Once all the legal documentation was taken care of, he waited one year for his student visa to arrive.
Abarca was required to take a year of English for Speakers of Other Languages courses to learn English before taking any credit classes. He said his first day of school was a surprise. “It was awesome, because everybody loved me,” Abarca said.
While taking ESOL classes, Abarca said he was amazed to see so many international students from a variety of cultures. “Everyone was very friendly with each other and they all wanted to know about each other’s cultures,” Abarca said.
Abarca also said he had a hard time communicating with students who did not share his first language. He said he did not know how to order food or buy books.
After asking around and practicing English, Abarca said he became more and more familiar with the language. He said he understands English well but still has difficulty speaking it because of his accent.
After learning English and completing his ESOL classes, Abarca earned the Good Neighbors Scholarship and started working toward an associate degree in science.
Abarca now works in the Outreach Program Services department.
Abarca said he is taking a break for the Spring 2012 semester due to lack of financial aid but will continue his education in the fall to major in biology and international business.
Abarca said it is difficult to get used to a different culture and learn a new language but not impossible.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, but where you are going,” Abarca said.