Everyone is always asked at some point in their college career why they chose the college they did. Choosing the University of Tampa for the weather or for a specific program are all valid reasons, but when Venezuelan native Maria Perez Salas chooses to become a full-time student it will be because she worked hard to meet one of the hardest prerequisites of applying; learning English.
The English as a Second Language (ELS) Center is tucked away beside the health center in the MacKechnie building, an understated brick building that blends in with the others on campus. Inside, however, is bustling with the excited, though broken, chatter of students who are at UT to learn what most other American students take for granted. The students are widely varying in age and ethnicities. Some are there to learn english to apply to college and some want to improve their chances of getting a job in their home country. Students study at the ELS center five days a week and are not allowed to miss any classes. Salas walks around the ELS center with the biggest smile and enthusiasm for mastering what she has come so far to learn.
With a day starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m., Salas works on grammar, reading, writing, vocabulary and English labs.
“When I finish at ELS I will apply to UT and maybe go for business or communication major,” she said.
Salas signed up for the ESL program through els.edu and was placed at UT with a friend, and even though she did not choose it, she says she loves it here. Though much is different from her home country of Venezuela, the school system is familiar.
“Class at home is much like UT. I have classes at different times a day, like a normal college,” she said.
Moving to Tampa can be culturally shocking to many of the students who come from all over the world, but Salas welcomed the opportunity to move away from a country in turmoil.
It has been almost exactly a year since the violent protests in Venezuela erupted when people became fed up with the declining economic situation and corrupt political power. Large demonstrations occurred and resulted in over 3,000 arrests and the deaths of 43 people. Although protests have calmed since 2014, the situation for the Venezuelan people has not improved a great deal. A sudden spike in protests occurred last week on the anniversary of deaths of protesters the previous year..
Salas is thankful to be away from what is happening there.
“Venezuela is not a good country anymore with all of the drugs and violence and the fear of being killed. It’s really nice to have that freedom [to get away].”
Counted among the things she misses about her home country are the people and the food but she is happy in her off-campus living situation.
“In Venezuela people are so friendly and warm. When we greet we hug, we touch more, we kiss on cheek. People here are colder. Like not as openly friendly. We are more informal in Venezuela,” she said. “Also driving. Where I am from there is no speed limit, and they drive wherever they want with no signs, or they drive on both sides of the street. The water is much better here than in Venezuela. But it is also so cold here, we don’t have this many types of weather. And I like living here better,” she said “I love UT a lot.”
Mia Glatter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org