International students give up much to attend PNW

International students trade the comfort of family and native culture for educational opportunity when they move to Northwest Indiana for university. 

Luis Alvear, a senior in Computer Science from Santander Spain, misses his family’s Sunday tradition.

“It is common in Spain to meet with your family and have lunch all together,” Alvear said. “On Sundays, we go to my grandma’s house. She starts cooking [paella] at 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. and the whole family gets there at 2 p.m. and then we eat together.” 

He also misses the fact that holidays around the world seem to be more special than they are here.

“In the U.S. when it’s a holiday, the country still runs like normal,” said Alvear. “Back in Spain, everyone’s out on the streets, they go to the bars during the day.”

He said holidays give people a chance to reconnect with friends.

“Many people go abroad to study,” Alvear said. “So [holidays are] a good time because you get to see your friends who are … studying in Poland, Italy. It’s a time to get to see them again after a whole year that I’ve been here.”

Other students miss their countries’ holidays. 

“One is on Jan. 6,” said Marine Bauwens, senior HR major, who was born in Belgium and raised in France.  “It’s related to Christmas. It’s called like, the Kings Holiday … it’s hard to translate. It’s to celebrate the end of Christmas.” 

Family and loved ones gather for a slice of a special pie-like pastry made from almond dough. One slice contains a special prize.  A child assigns slices of pastry to everyone in the room.

“Whoever … gets the trophy, gets a crown and they have to bring the next pie,” she said. “It’s silly, but those pies are good.”

Bauwens also misses the June 21 Fête de la Musique, France’s festival of music, which was created in 1981. 

“In France, the whole country just celebrates music,” she said.  

Each street is dedicated to a different genre. 

“So there’s like, rock and roll, and the next street is going to be like, techno music,” said Bauwens. “Everybody just stands and sings and drinks. It’s really fun. June 21, every year, it’s like a national holiday kind of, for music.”

Brian Esquivel, Colombian-born freshman studying Computer Graphics Technology, misses Colombian Independence Day, July 20. 

“Basically, people from Colombia go out and the little towns get together and they celebrate their independence day,” he said. “People paint the streets … traditional things of Columbia like food, we believe a lot in gods, so they paint pictures of gods, sometimes a flag of Columbia … they also make a lot of food and share (it) with people.”

This year, Esquivel plans to experience Colombian Independence Day close to campus.

“Here in Chicago, that day, there’s a festival,” he said. “All the Colombians go and celebrate. I like to share these moments with my people. It’s fun to be with the same people in your culture.”