By: Cristian Oliva
Six years ago, I would have never imagined how much the United States would influence my life. Moreover, I would never have thought about living part of my life in -what we Mexicans call- “our northern neighbor.” At that time, I had not visited the U.S. at all. Although I had been in several other countries such as Canada, Spain, France, Vietnam, and Thailand; I had never been in the US. And I have to admit; visiting the US was not even part of my closer plans. Do not think that I was trying to avoid the US, it was just that there was no link between it and me.
The first time I visited the U.S. was totally unexpected. It happened in January of 2010, when I was an undergraduate student at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) in México. UADY students usually referred ourselves as Jaguars because the jaguar is our mascot. During that time, UADY and CSU were taking their first steps toward the creation of a strategic partnership between institutions. In addition, as an important part of that partnership, they decided to implement a Student Leadership Exchange Program. From the UADY side, the group of students who were selected to participate in this first exchange were chosen among the students who belonged to the student government associations of UADY. Since I was president of one of the student government organizations (named Nueva Federación Universitaria) at that point in time, the invitation to participate fell into my hands. As you can imagine, I happily accepted it.
A couple of days before my first visit to the U.S. I was not really sure about what to expect. Unfortunately, every perception I had of the U.S. was based on what I had read and seen in TV programs and movies. At some point, I think I was expecting to be in something like the American Pie movie. Luckily, I was totally wrong.
There were several activities planned for us as part of the exchange program. We visited the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, the city of Fort Collins, and most importantly, CSU. I remember myself being highly intrigued with learning more about CSU. As soon as we arrived at the Denver Airport, I was already surprised by CSU advertisements. It was unusual for me to see a lot of University advertisements in an airport. It was even more surprising to observe a lot of signs around Fort Collins with the inscription “Welcome to Ramland”. It was interesting because one usually does not find those kinds of displays and advertisements about a Mexican University. Thus, my mind was filling with questions.
We met a lot of really nice people from CSU. We had the opportunity to share ideas, activities and problematics with student representatives from the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU). As we were talking, we were realized that a many of the capabilities and limitations were generally similar for both groups. That is, we were both groups of motivated students trying to achieve the same objective, dealing with similar obstacles and sharing common values. In fact, we were not near as different as we thought. We also had the chance to share thoughts and leadership experiences with the staff of the SLiCE and International Programs Offices. Again we found the commonalities were much greater than our differences.
I learned several things from my first visit to the U.S. thanks to the exchange program. I could never mention all of them; however, I can share a few. I think the most important thing I learned was that each country has their own characteristics and belongings that make them the wonderful places they are. It is also completely unfair to affirm that one country (or institution) is better than another. Moreover, I learned that both Universities have a lot to learn from one another. In fact, I believe it is something they should both focus on, as they share the same goal: to offer the best educational experience to their students as possible. In particular, I also realized that there are a lot of opportunities for growth at UADY that do not require lots of money. For example, we just need capable people with the right motivation to achieve specific goals and therefore generate improvements.
At the end of my first U.S. experience, a couple of thoughts remained in the forefront of my mind: what if we take the best of both parts and try to make something better? What if I try to do that in my field of expertise? And thus, the idea of doing my graduate studies at CSU came about.
I have now been living in the U.S. studying at CSU for more than three years. I first came to Colorado to earn a Master’s degree, which I received in 2014. After that, I decided to work for a PhD degree and am still working on it. My perspective of the United States is completely different that it was six years ago. Now it is more real, more alive and more exciting. I would love to share my experiences about my transition from studying in one country to another; however, that story would probably require its own blog entry.
It is a huge challenge to describe all the different forms of positive influence I have received from being in the US. Firstly, I have acquired a more inclusive way of thinking derived from the great diversity of people who live in the country. In that sense, CSU provides an environment where students can become involved with people from various countries, religions, races, sexual preferences, etc. Further, I have met wonderful and helpful people at all different levels. Students, professors, staff members, and even people from the community of Fort Collins; all of them always happy to give a hand when needed. Academically, I have had the opportunity to work for CSU as a Teaching and Research Assistant, which has provided opportunities that have allowed me to enhance my professional skills in my area of study. With regards to my academic and personal goals, I still hold the idea of absorbing all of the best aspects of CSU, Colorado and the United States, and then intersecting them with those of UADY, Yucatán and México. I have decided to become an agent of change by doing what I love in the best possible way to improve my environment, wherever that may be.
After having these experiences, I definitely feel much more pride for my Mexican roots than I did before. I am absolutely aware that a big part of the person I am is thanks to the comprehensive growth I received by studying at UADY, by being a Jaguar. But on the other hand, I am also thankful for the opportunity to be part of the U.S. community for the last three years. I am grateful and proud of being a CSU Ram.
Hopefully, after reading my story, you will understand why, when people ask me about which university I prefer, I always say: I would rather be a JaguaRam!
— Cristian Oliva is originally from Mérida, Yucatán, México. He is currently a PhD student in the Statistics Department at CSU. He earned his Math degree from UADY in México, and his MS in Statistics from CSU. He is the current president of the Latin American Students and Scholars Organization (LASSO) at CSU.