Courtesy of Carolina Antunez de Mayolo

Some of the students from the University of Puerto Rico attended an event at Lynah Rink at the beginning of the semester.

February 15, 2018

Four Weeks In, UPR Students Continue to Adjust to Life at Cornell

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Describing the weather in Ithaca as “bipolar,” the professors as “helpful” and the community as “welcoming,” students from the University of Puerto Rico say they are grateful for the Ivy League’s generosity, even as some struggle to adjust.

“I’ve said this a thousand times before but whenever people ask me how has Cornell been, I always say that the people really have been so welcoming and so nice … the administration, the registrar’s office … everyone has been so nice to me,” said UPR sophomore Jose De Jesus Szendrey.

Cornell implemented various programs to aid UPR students, who are attending the University after the impacts of Hurricane Maria.

The School of Continuing Education helped students enroll in classes and organized a crowdfunding campaign to alleviate the costs of books, transportation and more. The Puerto Rican Student Association and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Cornell chapter created a mentorship program that matches every student with an undergraduate and graduate mentor.

Professors have tried to make the transition easier for students, as well.

“Not all my professors know that I’m a UPR student, but the ones that do have been very helpful,” said UPR junior Vilmarie Jimenez Garcia. “For example, my biochem professor said that if there was a term that I didn’t remember, I could write it in Spanish.”

The students are still adjusting to the change in university structure from UPR to Cornell.

“We have a lot of assignments and a lot of work during the week. Back home, our courses usually just have tests and that’s it,” said UPR sophomore Belma Sandoval-Caraballo. “Here, we have problem sets and all this homework; I think it will be beneficial in the long run, but I’m just getting used to all this work.”

Apart from academic adjustments, the weather in Ithaca has been one of the biggest challenges for students.

“I think Cornell weather is very bipolar, one day it can be at 21 [degrees] and the next day at 40 [degrees],” said UPR student Lianis Marrero. “Being an island girl in which 85 [degrees] is the average temperature, this is a big change. However, my mindset is to enjoy every second of this spring semester and, though it is cold, I’ve been enjoying the weather.”

Immersed in their school work and new campus, students are still dealing with consequences of Hurricane Maria.

“Things are really hard in Puerto Rico. I just talked with my mother and she said things are really bad right now,” Szendrey said. “I only spoke with her for three or four minutes and she said she can’t talk because the electricity shut down. Neither my mother or father have electricity.”

Inspired by his semester and the opportunity to study at Cornell, Szendrey wants to raise awareness about Puerto Rico and go back to rebuild.

“I’d like to spread the word about how things in Puerto Rico are going to take a very long time to recover fully,” Szendrey said. “It’s not going to be an easy or quick process. I’m also hoping that when I get back from Cornell and head back to the University of Puerto Rico, I can help reconstruct.”

Until they return, the UPR students are doing their best to find a home at Cornell.

“I’ve made a couple friends here in the United States,” Szendrey said. “I wouldn’t say that I have met a lot of friends yet. I usually hang out with a lot of people from Puerto Rico because I like speaking Spanish with them and I feel like I’m at home with them.”

Overall, several students from Puerto Rico have emphasized that “studying abroad in Cornell opens lots of opportunities.”

“It’s really a transformative experience and my advice for any student that’s thinking about coming to Cornell is definitely do it, you are not going to regret it,” Marrero said.