Fitting in at the University of Texas at Austin
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of a new ongoing series about international student life at colleges and universities across the U.S. Please join us over the next several weeks as we bring you stories about these amazing individuals and the American higher education system as a whole.
Diana Ayoub did not think she would study in the U.S. after finishing high school.
Ayoub was born in Cairo, Egypt. She says the Egyptian education system is all about memorization. There are few chances for students to get experience using what they learn in the classroom.
Making the choice to attend a university in a foreign country is never easy. But Ayoub felt the education system in her home country lacked the resources and methods she desired.
By her first year in high school, Ayoub knew she needed to leave Egypt to get the kind of education she wanted. So sheenrolled in the African Leadership Academy, or ALA, in 2012.
The ALA is a special private high school in South Africa. With students from 45 different countries, the ALA trains leaders to help solve issues across the African continent.
Ayoub did not know how to apply to schools in the U.S. The ALA college counselors helped her move through the complexapplication process. She also applied to the African Leadership Bridge scholarship program to help pay for her education.
"I had no idea what was an SAT, I didn't know what was a GPA. I didn't know I had to write college essays and applications ... But thank god I got good support from my college counselors."
Then, Ayoub chose to seek an undergraduate degree in economics at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014.
The University of Texas at Austin, or UT Austin, was founded in 1883. The public research university is one of fourteen schools in the University of Texas system. UT Austin is located in Austin, the capital city of the state of Texas.
With a world-class music scene, Austin is called the "Live Music Capital of the World". The city is also famous for its wild outdoor art and ethnic food trucks. In recent years, many technology companies have moved into the city. The cost of living has risen.
Some people are worried that Austin is losing its artistic spirit. There is an effort to support local business called "Keep AustinWeird." This motto appears on T-shirts and bumper stickers around the city.
Every year the city holds a large festival celebrating new music, art and technology called "South by Southwest." President Barack Obama spoke at the event in 2016.
Ayoub is a Coptic Christian, a religious minority in Egypt. She knew what it felt like to be different from most people before coming to the U.S. But Ayoub says that in Austin everyone is different, so everyone is accepted for who they are.
"There is no one weird in Austin. It's normal to be weird. ... I knew that I'm never going to be judged for my culture or my background."
The decision to study at UT Austin was not as difficult for Carlos Galdeano. Galdeano is from Mexico City, Mexico, a four-hour flight from Austin. He says moving to Austin did not require much money.
Galdeano also received a scholarship after enrolling at UT Austin in 2012. The scholarship came from the Mexican government agency called The National Council for Science and Technology.
Galdeano is earning his doctorate degree, or Ph.D, in civil engineering, studying how water and energy are used.
He wanted to study under some of UT Austin's more well-known professors. Daene McKinney, David Maidment and Michael Webber are all experts in Galdeano's field of study.
Galdeano says the main problem for him was what he thought about the U.S. before arriving. The U.S. and Mexico have long had a difficult relationship. The media in both countries often comment on the negative beliefs that people in the U.S. have about people from Latin America.
Some people in the U.S. believe the border between the countries should be closed.
Galdeano was concerned he would be treated poorly because of his nationality or race. But soon he learned many people in the U.S. are welcoming to foreigners.
"Every time someone asks me ... if I feel threatened or not wanted in this country I would say no. ... Not all Americans think that way. ... I was expecting people only thinking about themselves. But I really found that they also care a lot about other causes outside the U.S."
Galdeano had other problems when he arrived. His wife had an F-2 visa at first, which meant she could not work or study. This made life in the U.S. difficult for her. Also, Galdeano had to learn that some common Mexican customs were unacceptable in the U.S.
For example, people in Mexico often kiss each other on the cheek when they meet. Most people in the U.S. avoid physical contact, unless they know the other person very well.
But Galdeano says willingness to be open to new ideas makes life as an international student in the U.S. easier.
"You definitely have to be more tolerant. ... So I think I've been growing more as a person ... that way."
Galdeano is now a teaching assistant, or TA, for a class called "Projects with Underserved Communities." Graduate students often work as TAs for professors in the sameacademic department.
Galdeano and the professor help the students in the class design projects serving rural communities in developing countries. The students work with non-governmental organizations in these countries.
If the students can raise the money needed, they can travel to those countries and make their projects happen. In 2016, Galdeano's students were able to travel to India, Tanzania and Guatemala.
He says everything he learned about fitting in at UT Austin has helped him teach his students. Understanding differences and accepting different opinions is very important, he adds. The more people try to understand each other, the easier it is for them to solve the world's problems.
I'm Pete Musto.