By Yang Liu
Alpha Torres, an exchange student from Puerto Rico from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2018, started attending class at Worcester State University last semester. It is her second time visiting America. Unlike the first visit, which was spent celebrating her thirteenth birthday, this time she came to Worcester to receive a better education and experience diversity. Now, she is taking concentration courses in public relations and advertising, which was her major at Puerto Rico University. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico and its culture share many commonalities with the mainland states. However, as Alpha’s views on America demonstrate, there are a lot of differences as well. I sat down with her to discuss her unique experience here in Worcester, her culture shock, her value conceptions, and her views on life and the people here.
Liu: Did you have any expectations of Worcester State University before you came? If so, do you think the reality matches them?
Torres: When I go to a new place, I try not to have expectations of the place and people. Just enjoy the life. One of the rules of happiness is, don’t expect. Let life surprise you. For myself, I just wanted to be better. I wanted to improve my English, and that’s what I am doing right now. I also wanted to take more concentration courses and learn more about my major. The last thing was that I expected to meet people with different cultures and backgrounds.
Liu: What are the cultural differences between Massachusetts and Puerto Rico?
Torres: [Mainly], I think it is a racial issue. In Worcester, people of different ethnicities tend to stick together. The racial topic here is sensitive. In my country, we don’t think in this way. Ethnicity is not the first thing that we think of.
Liu: What was the easiest part of adjusting to the life here? What was the most difficult part?
Torres: Language was the easy part. I have been taking English classes since kindergarten, so English is my second language. There were no language barriers in daily communication and class. Adapting to my dorm was easy, because my roommates were all nice. The food and transportation were the difficult parts. It is so inconvenient without a car.
Liu: When you come to a new cultural environment, do you try to have an open mind?
Torres: Yes. Faced with cultural difference, it’s hard to be objective. I often say to myself not to be judgmental and be more understanding. Try to understand their situation first, and don’t follow the stereotypes.
Liu: Why did you choose to come to Worcester for your exchange?
Torres: First, I wanted to go to Boston. But the problem was, I couldn’t match the classes for my major. I knew there were many good universities in Massachusetts, so I really wanted to go there. Worcester State University met the requirements and it also put an emphasis on advertising and public relations, which is what I am studying now.
Liu: How did you feel when you first came to Worcester?
Torres: I felt good, although this was not my favorite place. I knew that I would just spend some time here, and then I would leave. When you are in an exchange program, you’re supposed to be prepared for culture shock. You obviously know that this is not the same as your country. There will be something different.
Liu: How did you meet people and make new friends?
Torres: I made friends with my roommates. [Other than that] I don’t have many friends here. I’m friends with another person because we have something in common — that we are both from Puerto Rico. Basically, I meet people in class or at parties, but they are just acquaintances.
Liu: How do you feel about the people here compared to the people in Puerto Rico?
Torres: I feel like people here are [often] cold and unfriendly to people they don’t know. In the classroom, people don’t speak to each other. They speak only out of necessity. They are also conservative in the way they speak and think compared to the place I come from. Especially, they are not open-minded about art. If you talk about sensitive topics — for example sexuality — the atmosphere will become tense. I don’t want to generalize, but it is what I see on campus.
Liu: Will you stay here after the exchange program is over?
Torres: I think I will. I want to find an internship in America, but not in Worcester. In September, Hurricane Maria battered my hometown and caused great damage. However, the hurricane is just part of the reason. The main reason is that it is something that I really want to do. I like meeting other exchange students here, because it gives me the opportunity to know a little bit of their countries through them. Going to different places and seeing different people can broaden my horizons. I am open to all opportunities and I am ready for all experiences.
Liu: Do you believe in the American Dream ?
Torres: The American dream, for me, is like an idea, and I think it’s sort of a stereotype of America. It’s a stereotype that people around the world have about America. The truth is that a lot of immigrants come to America, but they are not successful at all. They are living in worse conditions and they don’t have freedom. The American dream is more accessible to people that are white, and it is relative. It is just a dream for certain people but not for all. I question about what the dream means in this country: who can have dreams, and dreams of what? It depends on who you are and what you want to get.