International spotlight: Preparing for the future with the help of the past

International spotlight: Preparing for the future with the help of the past

By Mara Kaufman

 “The one thing I remember thinking when I first came to the United States was, ‘People smile a lot here,’ because people in my country don’t randomly smile at you,” said a laughing 23-year-old Nancy Lo, a native of Belize. “That was one of the funniest things, I thought.”

Lo is in her second year in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of St. Thomas, but she started her U.S. education as an undergraduate student at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., after transferring from a two-year program at St. John’s Junior College in Belize City.

“Most people, if they want to pursue a degree beyond a two-year college in our country, they would go abroad,” Lo said.  

Nancy Lo

Education, however, was only one of the reasons Lo decided to move to the United States.

“On the TV,” Lo said, “you always kind of look at America and go, ‘Oh that’s kind of cool.’”

Now that she’s been in the country for about four years, Lo says, “I’m so integrated now that it’s hard to think about the differences.”

Still, there was a transitional period for Lo, too.

“It was kind of weird because it was the first time I had been away from my family,” Lo said. “It was kind of a blur of excitement and expectations.”

To help with her transition to a new culture, Lo became connected with a host family who helped her adjust to American life while studying at Viterbo.

Because Lo had such a positive experience with her host family in Wisconsin, she is excited about her position as a graduate assistant in International Student Services at St. Thomas. Now she helps St. Thomas international students connect with American students or families through Culture Link, St. Thomas’s version of “host families.” Although the students don’t live with them, the Americans serve as a support system to international students through Culture Link, promoting cultural exchange and helping international students adjust to life in the United States.

Lo is happy to have this experience with a variety of international students because she believes it will help build her skills as a psychologist in the future. Although she’s not sure whether she’ll stay in Minnesota or head home to Belize after, hopefully, completing a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, Lo believes her personal experiences and diverse background will help in the future, as well.

“I think I do have a different perspective from other people because of where I come from and my culture, and the way we value things and the way we do things,” Lo said.  

“Most people don’t realize how diverse the community of Belize is,” said Lo, whose parents both immigrated to Belize (her mom from Honduras and her dad from China).   “We are actually an English-speaking country. We’re kind of like America in the sense that we’re a melting pot of cultures.

“It’s good to see the perspectives of different cultures,” Lo said, thinking again of how she’ll integrate her experiences into her career.   “If you’re treating people, then you’re going to have to learn to deal with other people.”