La vida Americana

Theresa Bruskin

Senior architecture major Leslie Miranda Pommier sits in front of her renderings in the studio above the Tri-Towers rotunda. Miranda is from Mexico and is in a foreign exchange program for one semester at Kent State. Sam Twarek | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

In Prentice Hall, Leslie Miranda Pommier lies on her bed, laughing at the “Friends” episode she’s watching and yelling at the characters. In her brand-new Kent State T-shirt, she looks like every other college student.

The rosary hanging above her bed tells a different story.

“It’s my protection,” Miranda said, glancing at it.

The senior architecture major brought the rosary from her home in Mexico, which is thousands of miles away, in Poza Rica, Veracruz. As part of an exchange student program, Miranda is studying at Kent State this semester and will return to Mexico in the winter.

“I’m only here for the semester, and everyone is so impressed when I tell them,” she said. “It’s a short time. When I was in Mexico, I used to think ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be so much time, I just can’t do it!’ But now, I want more.”

Her suitcase behind the door prevents it from opening all the way. It’s too large to stow anywhere else in the small room, but too small to carry everything she needed to bring to Ohio. She bought some necessities in the University Bookstore when she arrived with her parents Aug. 16.

Miranda has no siblings and said her parents were reassured by what they saw of Kent State the four days they were here.

“It’s a beautiful university. It’s secure and they could see the patrols, so they knew I would be fine,” she said. “And they could see the things that made student life easier, like the free buses for students and the markets on campus — it was comfortable for them.”

In Mexico, Miranda attended the Universidad de las Am‚ricas in Cholula, Puebla, which is about a five-hour drive from her parents’ home, so they were used to saying good-bye.

“It doesn’t compare to when I left for my first university,” she said. “We didn’t have time to go ‘Oh, I’m going to miss you,’ so it wasn’t so sad. But I miss them.”

“And my cat,” she added, laughing.

As a teenager, Miranda crossed the border to shop in Texas several times, and though many people there speak Spanish, the trips gave her a chance to practice the English she studied since kindergarten.

She’s seen the same movies and watched the same television shows as students who grew up in the United States. At home, she watched shows such as “House, M.D.” in English, but with Spanish subtitles, she said.

When preparing to make the trip, she said she was worried about getting lost in Cleveland and not making friends.

Now that she’s been at Kent State, she said she doesn’t need subtitles anymore and knows she worried for no reason.

“Now I know they were silliness,” she said. “They were false because I figured out how to get to the university, and I have friends here.”

On the floor above Miranda in Prentice Hall, Sophia Chaves blasts piano music while studying for English.

Chaves said she attended summer camps in the United States for several years before coming to Kent State, so she already knew how different it was from her home in Costa Rica.

“I’m used to it,” the freshman piano performance major said. “At the summer camps I went to, they taught you a lot about culture. I’ve been to the big cities like Chicago, and I’ve played piano there. I was so excited because it was so different from Costa Rica.”

Chaves, who turned 17 in June, is from Heredia, which is near San Jose. While at a summer camp in North Carolina, she met Donna Lee, a Kent State professor and Julliard graduate, who told her to study for a few more years before auditioning there.

Taking her advice, Chaves came to Kent State to devote her time to piano, which she has been studying seriously for four years and as a hobby since she was 6.

“This is such a great opportunity,” she said. “I have worked so hard to get a scholarship that it would be a shame to only think about the negative stuff.”

While she said she does worry about getting fat from American food, missing her friends and hating the weather, Chaves said they weren’t her biggest concern.

“I was worried about how I have always had people who have taken care of me, who have brought me food while I was practicing,” she said. “But here I go to the cafeteria and someone still has to cook.”

Chaves said studying in the United States makes her eligible for more competitions than when she only came for summer camps. There aren’t as many opportunities to study the arts in Costa Rica, and she said she is excited about her future at Kent State.

“People are nice here. Friends at home said that people here look at you like you are dumb because you are Hispanic, but I have never seen that,” she said. “People are always nice.”

Contact student life reporter Theresa Bruskin at [email protected].