Exchange student Paulina Quiros finds a new community at Rice
While thinking about the American college experience, popular media may call to mind movies such as “Legally Blonde” or “Gossip Girl.” For Paulina Quiros, a Lovett College junior and exchange student from Costa Rica, it was these pop culture depictions that pushed her to study abroad in the United States. She said she first discovered Rice while searching for specific study abroad programs in the country.
“[Rice is] a really, really good school, so I thought it was [going to] be the best one, and it was going to open more opportunities for me,” she said. “The [Rice] community is really cool.”
Quiros is currently in her second semester as an exchange student at Rice. Her time here has been notably different from her time at her home school, the University of Costa Rica, mainly due to the pandemic.
“I [started] school [in Costa Rica] in March 2020. I went to three days of class and then COVID hit. After that, it was two straight years of Zoom classes. Basically, I didn’t have a real college experience back home because of that,” Quiros said. “My actual college experience on a campus began here.”
According to Quiros, her time at the University of Costa Rica was marked by negatives, including a rocky adaptation to virtual learning, but wasn’t without its conveniences as well.
“I think [Zoom] made some things easier. I really liked it because back home we don’t live in dorms, we live back in our house. So I feel like it saved me a lot of time traveling,” she said.
Quiros said she had always wanted to study abroad. However, she said she started looking into exchange programs with some reservations.
“I know a friend [who] went to Spain last semester, but he didn’t fit in really well in the social area. It was really difficult for him,” Quiros said. “At first, I chose one semester because I was afraid of the social [scene].”
However, Quiros’ fears were for nothing: when she first arrived, she said she was surprised by how friendly everyone was.
“The first week I got here, I got COVID. I didn’t know anyone, and I contacted [Dr. Ozaki-Sensee]. She’s one of the Owl team. She was super nice to me, and really helpful. I became really close to her because of that,” she said.
The friendliness was not limited to Lovett’s A-team, she said. According to Quiros, her fellow Lovetteers also made her feel at home.
“I was supposed to be here just for the spring semester, but I really liked it. People were super nice to me. So I applied to extend my stay here, and I ended up staying for a year,” she said.
Quiros said she enjoys the social life and traditions of her residential college, although it is difficult to compare them to the traditions at the University of Costa Rica, where most students commute from home and make friends through classes. According to her, the residential college system was a different change to the social structure she was used to.
“I really like [Lovett’s] commons culture,” Quiros said. “We don’t have a space to hang out on the floors — I’ve heard other colleges have floor culture — we have to spend time in commons. I feel like you get to know way more people in commons.”
At Lovett, Quiros said she has been involved in three different IM sports: powderpuff, basketball and soccer. This semester she is also on Lovett’s college night committee, where the theme is “Drunkingham Palace: Queen Elizabeers United Keg Dump.”
“I wanted to be part of something in Lovett,” she said. “I adapted really well to the social [area]. I fit in really well with the people here.”
According to Quiros, she would tell anyone planning to study abroad to be willing and open to make new connections and get involved.
“You should talk to people. They might not seem friendly [initially], but people are really friendly. Try to talk to people and don’t be afraid,” she said.
Quiros said that her time at Rice has been a time for both personal and academic growth. She said that studying abroad was a transformative experience.
“Being away from home has changed me personally. I’ve grown a lot,” Quiros said. “[It’s] one of the main reasons that I feel like I’m really learning.”
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