By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart
When SUNY Broome students contemplate studying abroad, they envision traveling to college campuses in historic and exotic cities across the world. They often forget, however, that global learning experiences are reciprocal, and that to many, studying at SUNY Broome in Binghamton, NY is an equally culturally enriching endeavor. This semester, SUNY Broome is honored to host two such students, Andrea Contreras Contreras and Mayra “Ximena” Moreno Razo, via a dual enrollment program with the College’s long-time collaborative partner, the Universidad de Celaya in Celaya, Mexico. Andrea and Ximena are spending the fall 2023 semester living and learning at SUNY Broome, and will graduate with both an associate degree in Business Administration: A.S. from SUNY Broome and a bachelor’s degree in International Business from the Universidad de Celaya. While the girls both admitted that they initially thought that being a college student in New York meant New York City, both Ximena and Andrea have developed a genuine fondness for the Southern Tier and for their new community’s college.
Andrea and Ximena’s journey to SUNY Broome is almost identical. Both students hail from Guanajuato, Mexico, and came to the Universidad de Celaya to pursue undergraduate degrees in business. When their professors announced an opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad in New York, both ladies were immediately drawn to the idea of adding some cultural immersion to their college experience. While a similar dual enrollment program with a partner university in Spain intrigued both Andrea and Ximena, it lacked one critical component, the constant exposure to the English language.
“The Universidad de Celaya is a bilingual university, but it’s still not the same as being surrounded by native-English speakers,” Moreno Razo said. “There is a big difference between writing a paper in English and speaking to someone in a fast-paced conversation. Studying in the United States is the best way to practice English.”
Armed with the goals of improving their English, meeting new people, and making themselves more marketable with the addition of an American associate degree, Contreras Contreras and Moreno Razo traveled from Guanajuato to Binghamton for the fall semester.
Even though Mexico is the United States’ closest neighbor, the culture shock was palpable. First and foremost, the ladies were not in the metropolis of New York City, but instead were welcomed to the Southern Tier, a unique blend of urban, suburban, and rural communities. SUNY Broome’s campus seemed far more relaxed than the college campuses in Mexico, and Andrea and Ximena were surprised to learn that American college students don’t just study and go to class, but instead fill their schedules with campus activities, clubs and organizations, and competitive athletics. Most shocking was the classroom requirement to participate in discussions. While they usually just listened along to their lectures at the Universidad de Celaya, at SUNY Broome, they were expected to share their personal insights and opinions about the material… in English! Understandably, Andrea and Ximena’s first few weeks on campus were full of adjustments.
“On my first day of classes, I only heard the lectures in Spanish and had to mentally translate everything between the languages,” Moreno Razo said. “By the end of the day my head was pounding. But each day got better and better and my confidence to participate in class is growing.”
In addition to being business administration students and residents of the Student Village, Andrea and Ximena have become ambassadors to SUNY Broome for other Universidad de Celaya students.
“When we first arrived at SUNY Broome, we filmed a campus tour to show our fellow students in Celaya,” Contreras Contreras explained. “We thought that we were just having a normal Zoom meeting, but we were actually being projected on a big screen for all of our classmates in Mexico. Hopefully our thoughts about our time as international students will encourage more Universidad de Celaya students to take advantage of this opportunity.”
As the semester progresses, Andrea and Ximena are growing more and more comfortable embracing each typical American college experience. They spend their days learning about business law and managing diversity in organizations, and spend their evenings hanging out with friends and attending as many student activities events on campus as possible.
“We’ve tie-dyed shirts, gone to the movies, and even won a pet fish for our dorm room,” said Contreras Contreras.
Both students are looking forward to witnessing first-hand the beauty of the changing seasons in the Northeast, celebrating their first Thanksgiving, and touring around the State of New York.
“We are trying to make the most of every day and learn as much as we can from our professors, advisors, and new friends. This is a beautiful time in our lives.”