My Alma Mater: Around the GLOBE

The U of I’s International Education program brought me closer to my homeland

Roberto poses with fellow international students The U of I’s GLOBE program enabled Roberto Rojas-Alfaro (inset) to develop friendships with other international students and to teach them about his homeland of Costa Rica. (Image courtesy of Roberto Rojas-Alfaro)
The U of I’s International Education program brought me closer to my homeland

When I enrolled at the U of I in 2016—a fresh-faced international student from Costa Rica—it was the beginning of a transformative journey that made me feel like I truly belonged.

In my homeland, I had been an English professor, and I arrived in Champaign-Urbana to earn a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education. I wanted to make a difference in the learning experiences of diverse student populations, and I thought Illinois could help me achieve that.

But first: There I was, a stranger in a strange, new land, trying to find a sense of belonging.

I quickly decided that I should get involved in a student program. The one I picked was Global Leaders Orange and Blue Engagement (GLOBE), and I remained an active member until the day I graduated.

I have countless memories of attending events and leading student activities at GLOBE’s headquarters in the Asian American Cultural Center.

Looking back, I can’t help but see GLOBE as a big, welcoming family and a safe space for me—an atmosphere that whispered, “You’re in the right place.” GLOBE gave me the opportunity to hone my leadership skills in a completely new environment, step out of my comfort zone and interact with people from around the world.

One of my favorite parts about GLOBE was a series of presentations in which people shared their life experiences from back home. Hearing those talks, I felt inspired to share my own experiences about life in Costa Rica, beyond the common perceptions of Latin America. Every country there, as well as every individual’s experience, is unique. I wanted to show that and to illustrate what Costa Rica looks like from an insider’s perspective.

My fellow students were intrigued to learn about a country that is not so well-known outside of North America and is often seen as a travel destination. I provided a window into what life in Costa Rica is really like, from its traditions and lifestyles to its mouthwatering food. I whipped up a delicious spread of “gallo pinto,” fried plantains and other treats that transported everyone to my homeland.

My talk felt more like a lively party than a presentation, and the experience deepened my appreciation for my culture and my country.

Thanks to GLOBE, my time at Illinois was filled with laughter, self-discovery and unforgettable moments. It was an environment that allowed me to learn more about myself and to make new friends from all over the world. Because of those experiences, I now feel much more comfortable with intercultural interactions. Not only that, I feel like I now have the knowledge and confidence to educate a diverse range of students—the reason I pursued a doctorate in the first place!

I will always hold my memories of GLOBE—and of Illinois—close to my heart.

Roberto Rojas-Alfaro is assistant professor of English at Salt Lake Community College in Utah.

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