Camila Gonzalez walks into Linnaea’s Café wearing a vibrantly colored jacket, a newsboy hat and a radiant smile on her face. Taking a sip of her iced coffee, she softly grins as she reminisces about a time when her only form of communication was through color. Her colorful clothing served as self-expression when communication through language was not an option.
Journalism junior Camila Gonzalez moved to the United States from Santiago, Chile eight years ago, only speaking Spanish. She said she continues to embrace her nationality and no change of environment will ever strip her of what she considers to be a major part of her identity.
As an incoming junior, she no longer faces the challenge that all new students encounter — finding one’s place within the student body. Well-established and optimistic, Gonzalez hopes to continue to grow as she passes the halfway mark of her college experience.
“I have been in the United States long enough to feel comfortable with the culture,” Gonzalez said. “I find it easy to embrace it in many ways, but I will always carry my Chilean culture with me. It’s who I am and I’m proud of that.”
Moving to California has allowed Gonzalez to find differences that lie among both countries, finding positives and negatives in both. Throughout the years, Gonzalez practiced the customs and values of both cultures.
Because of this double exposure, Gonzalez had to make a major decision when choosing a college.
“I thought about going back to Chile for college,” Gonzalez said. “But, I felt like I would have better opportunities here. Going back to Chile would have meant falling back into what I already knew.”
Gonzalez’s priority was to get a full college experience and leave the comfort of her home. She wanted to challenge herself and more so, her independence.
“Colleges have a completely different system in Chile. For example, dorms aren’t a thing,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re from the city, you live at home with your parents and commute to your university. Having the chance to live away from my parents served as a catalyst to maturation.”
Cal Poly was always at the top of Gonzalez’s list. Her transition into college was just like everyone else’s. However, coming from two different cultures allows her to look at the Cal Poly college experience from an outsider’s perspective.
“Cal Poly gets a lot of heat for having little diversity,” Gonzalez said. “But I never had a difficult time adjusting to that. I feel like I went through the same struggle as everyone else in the beginning of finding my place and my people.”
For Gonzalez, it all comes down to finding like-minded people who are willing to learn about new places and new cultures. Although Cal Poly may not have the most diverse campus, Gonzalez said open-minded people can be found anywhere.
“I’m attracted to people who are curious and open to new ideas,” Gonzalez said. “I’m drawn to that because moving here forced me to get out of my comfort zone and delve into new things.”
With two years of college under her belt, Gonzalez reflected on the opportunities that Cal Poly has provided her.
“Going to school here has opened up so many doors for me,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve had the chance to surround myself with people who respect and appreciate my roots.”
Last year, Gonzalez joined Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, KCPR, and is currently the station’s assistant content editor. In addition to finding her niche in KCPR, Gonzalez and her sister established Easy Eyes, a vintage apparel line.
“Our brand has flourished because college has given us access to better networking,” Gonzalez said. “Given the circumstances, I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I had gone back to Chile for college.”
Gonzalez’s biggest advice for prospective international students is to take the risk and use it as a motive for personal growth.
“Fear is definitely a factor when you’re being exposed to a new environment, but it also gives you the confidence to accomplish things you never thought you would do,” Gonzalez said. “I think that this is something that everyone needs in life because we are never guaranteed that we’ll stay in the same place forever.”
Gonzalez’s hope for the new school year is to proceed with the growth that college has continuously provided her with. Her goal is to approach new ideas and meets new people who have the same curiosity and open-mindedness to learn.