English Department students at The Returned event.

On February 1st of this year, six students and I boarded a plane that would take us from Puerto Rico to Penn State University Greater Allegheny (PSU-GA) in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Our group, consisting of six English majors and one Arts major, embarked on the chance to live as exchange students in PSU-GA during the Spring 2018 semester.

Dr. Rosita Rivera invited English Department students to participate in an internship and student exchange opportunity. Dr. Rivera collaborated with PSU-GA’s chancellor, Dr. Jacqueline Edmondson, to offer students much needed assistance after Hurricane Maria.

And what an experience! After weeks of meeting and planning out our stay at PSU-GA, we finished our Fall semester at UPRM and quickly began the Spring semester at Penn State. We were met at the airport by Erin O’Malley and Tony Gomez, faculty of PSU-GA who made sure we were safe and comfortable during our stay on campus.

Amanda Ciani, one of the seven students and recent UPRM graduate, was really happy with the time she spent in PSU-GA. Hardworking and dedicated, Amanda made sure to finish her last semester as an undergraduate student with a bang, focusing on her classes and research. Amanda has this to say about her experiences at PSU-GA:

“Being at PSU-GA showed me a very different university life compared to what we have at UPRM. Everyone seemed to care for each other and people knew one another on a first name basis. Being a small campus allows for this closeness to be achieved but it really impressed me how friendly and kind everyone was there.”

Even though many of us were graduating or about to graduate, there is one person who stood out for being the only freshman among us. Cristina Rivera was the youngest of our group, joining us in our adventure at only 18 years-old . Cristina was one of the hardest working students among our group, working one job, one internship, and taking classes at PSU-GA. Cristina was determined to make the most out of this opportunity

“Maintaining my performance both in my internship and in my academics was exhausting and often nerve-wracking, but that made it all the more  satisfying to know that I could and would excel at both. Succeeding at UPRM requires many of those same strengths.”

As for myself, I had many firsts during my stay at PSU-GA. We arrived smack in the middle of winter, and it the temperature was an ungodly 17 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived at the student dorms. It was both my first time experiencing such temperatures and seeing snow. I had also never been to a campus that small, so it was interesting to see how efficiently a university runs when its employees are not overworked with students. It made me think a lot about our situation in UPRM. Everyone was incredibly nice and I had to pleasure to interact with people who truly care about their students and bend over backwards to see them succeed.

The exchange program not only allows students to experience cultures outside of their own and meet new people, but it also offers them an opportunity to access academic resources that are otherwise unavailable to UPRM students. Had I not gone to PSU-GA, I would have not been able to meet wonderful people who helped me advance academically and professionally, and I would have still been debating about what studies to pursue after I graduate. Dr. Rivera and Dr. Edmondson are still working on continuing their collaboration, and I can safely say that next group of students will be in very good hands.