Adjusting to life in the U.S. can be challenging for students like Ximena González, a UCF international student from Venezuela.
At the Global UCF building’s grand opening Wednesday, González shared both the trials and victories international students face, as well as the potential benefit of the new building itself.
“International students work really hard,” González said. “Homesickness and loneliness [hit] us just like any other college student. However, our families and friends are not a long drive away. In many cases, they are 10-plus hours away by plane in a different time zone or in my case, living in Venezuela where the political situation is harsh.”
Prior to the building’s ceremonial ribbon-cutting, the theater studies major caught the attention of her audience by recalling her days in UCF’s Global Achievement Academy, a year-long program offered to international students in order to help them gain understanding of the English language and American culture.
“When I started this program, we were cluttered in a small office by the CFE Arena,” González said. “We had study sessions smooshed together in tables, and it was so loud. You could hear different conversations at the same time — one in Chinese, another one in Russian, one more in Hindi — and there I was sitting in the corner, trying to solve a math problem while counting in Spanish.”
Despite her affection for the tiny space in which the students used to meet, as well as the relationships she built there, González praised the new building’s presence, which stands three floors high just off of Memory Mall.
“What happened inside that small office was beautiful,” González said. “But this big and beautiful building means that our family can grow.”
UCF President John C. Hitt was also present at the ceremony, and he too voiced his pleasure at the completion of the 54,000-square-foot building. Hitt said he expected the production of the new building to make it easier to recruit international students.
“We can’t afford to send everyone abroad,” Hitt said. “But we can afford to have a very vibrant international studies presence here on the campus and have students from many, many, many countries. And that’s a great experience for students who may not have encountered people from other countries with any frequency.”
Hitt stressed the importance of the new building, saying it’s not just important because the faculty needs a space to complete its work, but also because it displays the importance UCF places on international influence as a whole.
“Because it is a beautiful building and right at the heart of our campus, it says something about how we regard international influence and international education,” Hitt said.
Both students and faculty are reaping the benefits of the new building.
Chandra Kethi-Reddy, a senior majoring in industrial engineering, was studying for a quiz during the opening reception. He said even non-international students can benefit from the new space.
“It’s just a space that’s designed for collaboration,” Kethi-Reddy said. “And I think that the way they designed the space — it works in such a way that it not only helps people work together, but I think it teaches us new ways to work together.”
Regardless of the obstacles international students may still face, González was optimistic about the steps the university has taken to improve their experiences.
“In a small corner by [the] CFE Arena, sometimes it felt like it was an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’” González said. “But now it really feels like we’re all knights, part of the same family.”