Alumni Interview: Priscilla Araya from Costa Rica

Priscilla Araya - Headshot_cropBefore coming to our Intensive English Program, Priscilla had studied business administration and marketing in Costa Rica. She started in level 2 and in only ten months  completed our six-level core program. Shortly after going back home, she was hired at IBM Costa Rica as a global administrative assistant, where she gives support to executives in the U.S. and Canada and spends at least 80% of her workday speaking English. She was recently promoted and is now serving as an incident, problem and change coordinator.

Priscilla shared with us a bit about her experience studying English in the Intensive English Program at Rice University.

(Interview first published in Study in the USA magazine, Spanish Edition 2018, pp. 20-22.)

Why did you decide to study in the USA?

In my case, wanting to be a better professional was the reason that pushed me towards studying in the U.S. We are in an era in which English is a universal language and if you are not able to communicate in English, it would be difficult to get ahead in the professional world.

Why did you choose the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program at Rice University?

The ESL program at Rice University was attractive for several reasons, but the main one was the educational prestige that Rice holds. It is one of the best ranked universities in the U.S. Another reason was the fact that the program is very organized and it takes just one year to complete levels 1-6. Finally, it was the social media environment showing the students and professors having a great time.

Pri-Program photo 2What did you like best?

The cultural experience was the aspect that I liked most. Houston is a city with wonderful multicultural aspects which makes the experience more enriching. The Rice ESL program takes this Houston essence to its classes. You will have an expanded perspective to understand other cultural environments and thoughts.

What did you miss most?

I missed my family, friends, the wonderful beaches and mountains in my Costa Rica, and for sure the food!

How has your English improved?  How has this program helped you to handle future study at a U.S. university?

I studied in the U.S. for 10 months. In the beginning, my English was terrible! My biggest problem with English was that for some reason I had fear to speak in English, so my mind was blocked. Even though I had this issue with learning English, the teachers at Rice were amazing and they helped my classmates and me to learn and improve our English. In my case, I had in mind to get a great job in Costa Rica once I finished the program, and thankfully I did! I am now working at IBM and communicate exclusively in English.

What was your biggest surprise?

For me the biggest surprise was to see how competitive and challenging the education system is in the United States. In the U.S., you attend a university not just for studying, you also invest in your future. That is why the education in the U.S. is one of the best in the world.

How did you handle:

… language differences?

It was one of the strongest cultural shocks to understand English in the beginning. When people talked to me I would look at them like … I don’t have the slightest idea what you are telling me, but I would smile and say thank you!

… adjusting to a different educational system?

I didn’t have any problems adapting in that aspect. I always push myself to be the best I can be and I was aware that it was an intensive program.

What were your activities?

I participated in many activities such as the NBA playoffs and a baseball game. We also visited museums and the zoo. The Rice ESL program also promotes activities where I attended lunches, picnics, ice cream parties, karaoke and games nights. I also had the opportunity to learn country dancing and experience U.S. cultural celebrations such as the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.

How easy or difficult was making friends?

In the beginning, I was so shy, and I didn’t feel like me because I am an outgoing person, but then when I could communicate more everything became easier and easier. Actually, the friends I made in the program became like my family, and the nice thing is that we still have communication with each other. Now, it doesn’t matter how far apart we are, I know that have friends in different countries. It is great, isn’t it?

How relevant is your U.S. education to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?

I plan to continue growing and developing myself professionally and to do this I must be able to communicate my ideas in a language that most people can understand. So far, I think that having studied in the U.S. has been worth the effort. Today, I speak English at least 80 percent of my day in my Spanish-speaking country.

What is your advice to other students who are considering a U.S. education?

If you have the opportunity to study in the United States, do it! It is a decision that you will never regret and that will fill your life with unforgettable experiences, people, and at the same time your world perspective will open and definitely, the opportunities will come to you!

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