All Around the World: How living in 3 other countries has shaped an Elon first-year

By: Reilly Welsh

For many college freshmen, the moment they step onto the campus of their chosen school and their home for the next four years is their first time living in a place completely foreign to the city they have called home for the past 18 years of their lives. For freshman Mariana Gonzalez, her move to Elon, North Carolina would mark the start of her life in her fourth home, her first in the United States.

Mariana was born in Mexico where she lived until she was eight years old before moving to Singapore for the next five years of her life and then to the Netherlands for the proceeding five years. Both relocations resulting from her father’s opportunities to work abroad and change jobs. With her early childhood spent in Mexico, her middle school years spent in Singapore and her high school experience taking place in the Netherlands, each country shaped her in a different way at varying important stages in her life.

While living in Singapore and the Netherlands, Mariana attended international schools, meaning her classmates had the same background that she did, coming from families that were constantly packing up and moving to other parts of the world. While she appreciated the opportunity to be surrounded by people with similar upbringings, the downside was that many of her friends and the people she became close to left quickly and frequently, as their parents’ job contracts usually lasted no longer than a few years.

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A school in Tanzania, where Mariana visited. These are members of a Masai tribe, meaning they live in the wild.

One of the greatest impacts on Mariana from her time spent in different countries and cultures is the acquisition of languages other than that of her primary language, Spanish. In addition to learning English from her years in international schools, where she picked up an “international accent” due to studying it in the company of people from different backgrounds and accents themselves, she also progressed substantially in her comprehension of Dutch, although not completely fluent. Additionally, being exposed to different lifestyles and customs gave her both an more open mind as well as a greater cultural and social understanding of the events happening around her and globally.

Besides the contrast in languages spoken, Mariana also had to acquire a knowledge of varying rules of social etiquette. For example, in Singapore, elders are addressed as “auntie” or “uncle.” In Mexico and the Netherlands, people are greeted with one or three kisses respectively. “When my parents had friends over I dreaded greeting them as I didn’t know whether to simply say hi, or shake their hand, or give them one, two or three kisses,” Gonzalez said.

Before coming to Elon, Mariana’s father repeatedly reminded her of aspects of American culture that would differ from those she had previously been familiar with, such as asking, “Hi, how are you?” out of respect. In the Netherlands, that question would elicit a completely honest and straightforward response; one time when her dad said that to a passerby in the Netherlands, the man began telling her father about the problems he was having with his wife that morning.

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A Castle in the Netherlands

One of the most vital lessons Mariana took away from her vast exposure to different cultures, and something everyone should remember, is open-mindedness. Everyone has a different background, but just because we do not fully understand or agree with someone’s beliefs does not mean we should discount them. Being receptive to cultures unlike your own allows for greater awareness and appreciation of other people, whether that be those we interact with on a daily basis or those around the world.

Photography Courtesy of Mariana Gonzalez

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