International first-years share their first impressions of U.Va.

Three students discuss American food, classes and arriving on Grounds

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(From left to right) Helena Lindsay,  Kacper Olijewski and Sofia Munera have entered their first year at U.Va. 

Contributed photos

Hamburgers — a classic American fare that has most of our mouths watering at the thought of biting into one. Not only do many Americans think hamburgers are delicious, but we also associate them with entertaining events such as backyard family cookouts on a warm summer night or going to Boylan on gameday. Imagine, though, if you thought living in America meant you had to consume one of these large greasy foods every single day. 

That was the case for Helena Lindsay, a first-year Architecture student who left Japan to run cross country and track at the University. 

“On my official visit, the cross country team took me to a burger shop to show me the ‘American experience’ I guess,” Lindsay said. “The food was very yummy, but in my head I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t know if we’re going to have burgers every day or…’” 

Due to the food Lindsay ate on her official visit and the stereotype that American food is unhealthy, she expected to arrive to more greasy and processed food. However, she is managing to adjust by finding healthy options. Contrary to public opinion, Lindsay actually enjoys dining hall food, especially the salad bar at O’Hill and the trail mix station in Newcomb. 

Many incoming students have varying expectations of what their experience will be like at the school. International students especially have unique expectations due to growing up in a society far away from America and its universities.

First-year College student Kacper Olijewski, who traveled from Poland to attend the University, had the expectation that U.Va. and its classrooms would have a different atmosphere from that of his home country.

“Polish universities rarely give students an opportunity to engage in courses,” Olijewski said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Students in the United States are encouraged to ask questions and go beyond the material which is taught in lectures. At first, I felt nervous coming to a new country and studying in a different language, but all people, students, faculty, staff and alike, made me feel comfortable about my decision and my expectations when coming to UVa.”

Lindsay had high expectations for the University due to conversations she had with her Japanese friends at American universities who all spoke phenomenal things about the University’s academics and athletics. 

“Not a lot of Japanese students like myself study abroad at American universities,” Lindsay said. “However, I knew that my next four years would be my best four years and so my expectations were pretty high coming into U.Va.” 

Lindsay initially heard about the University through a recruiting profile when she was chosen to run cross country and track and field. Her parents had never heard of the University, but she went ahead and accepted her official visit. Upon her arrival, Lindsay was blown away by the strong support system the school had to offer international students and, specifically, student-athletes. 

“U.Va. has the best support system by far,” Lindsay said. “The sports nutritionist, the sports psychologist and the tutor accessibility for students athletes made me feel comfortable coming here alone even though I’m an international student.”

In regards to food, Lindsay’s expectations were not met, but thankfully for the better. 

Sofia Munera, first-year College student, on the other hand, has had a hard time adapting to American food. Munera is on the tennis team at the University.

“I was very sick for my first two weeks in America,” Munera said. “It took a long time for my stomach to adjust to the different food here. I’m getting used to it now but I don’t love it, I’m not going to lie.” 

Munera admits that back home in Colombia all of the meals are very organic and healthy, to the point that sandwiches are rarely served for lunch or dinner. 

Arriving at the University, Munera was concerned about time management and nervous about fitting in. Due to her intense tennis training and travel schedule, Munera had not gone to school in a normal classroom setting for five years. Moreover, since English is not her first language, she worried her coursework would be exponentially more difficult. 

“U.Va. has an academically challenging reputation and is known for being a very prestigious school, so I expected the classes to be very challenging,” Munera said.

However, living in Charlottesville and taking a class over the summer helped Munera transition because it enabled her to make connections with others on Grounds, ultimately building her a strong support system. Munera admits that classes are challenging, but believes people want her to succeed and provide the resources for her to do so. 

Munera has always had a very positive image of American universities because of its focus on athletics. As a competitive tennis player, Munera prioritized her athletics over her academics so attending a school with a strong athletic program was important to her. According to Munera, Colombian schools do not take sports as seriously as American schools do. In fact, she said she would not even be able to play tennis back home at the collegiate level.

“I’m so grateful to be here,” Munera said. “The people make me feel very welcome here and I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience so far.”

Though Munera has had a good experience at the University thus far, Hollywood movies gave her the expectation that American college life would solely consist of drugs and alcohol.

Although Lindsay understands that can still be the case for some students, she said she was pleasantly surprised when the University required her to take numerous informative online courses about sexual violence and safe drinking habits. She found it reassuring that the University acknowledges the universal issue of drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses and works to prevent it. 

For Olijewski, who expected to only engage in school and studies at the University, he was surprised and excited when to find a wealth of extracurricular opportunities. He hopes to immerse himself in Outdoors at U.Va., the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team and Global Brigades. 

“So far, my expectations have been met and quite frankly, it has been better than expected,” Olijewski said. 

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