International student experience at NCF
Penelope Donetti in their dorm. Courtesy of Penelope Dotti.

International student experience at NCF

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Over the past few years, Florida universities have witnessed a sizable influx of international students who are pursuing higher education in the Sunshine State. Among the many prestigious and locally loved educational destinations, New College of Florida is home to a diverse group of students from several places across the globe. The campus’s reputation as the honors college of Florida, its tight-knit community, traditions and waterfront location allow it to stand out from the surrounding universities for international scholars seeking an education in the United States. 

As more and more opportunities to study abroad become accessible for international students, the demographic makeup of New College continues to evolve. Along with enhancing the university’s academic environment, international students at New College provide an opportunity for local students to enrich their cross-cultural understanding by offering a unique outlook on life in Florida. New College attempts to offer the same to the students from across the globe by fostering a community within the community, pushing for inclusivity and a globally involved learning environment. 

One New College student in particular, Penelope Donetti, joined a Catalyst reporter in an interview to better understand life at New College from an international perspective. Donetti is a third-year student whose home country is France, approximately 4,651 miles from the Sarasota area. While an update is necessary, as of 2023, Donetti’s home nation was among the 17 countries of origin for international students at New College. 

Donneti’s Area of Concentration (AOC) is Art and Psychology. When asked about their experience of studying in America compared to studying in France, Donetti noted that “studying in America saved my academic career.”

They went on to describe the differences in teaching methods, the competitiveness and the labor it requires to gain a teacher’s full attention in France. At New College, Donetti “discovered teachers who care, who are eager to teach their material and interested in the student’s views and analysis.” New College offers more than 50 areas of study, all equipped with teachers who have given students like Donetti an educational experience that inspires confidence in the classroom.  

The array of differences in location and culture can be daunting and come with its own challenges, however. “[The] hardest challenge is to have most of my family far away from me,” Donetti said. “When there is a problem I have to reach out to my friends and their families which thankfully are always so helpful. But I still get a feeling of being alone in a big country that I wasn’t born and raised in; sometimes it’s scary to think about it like that.” 

This eye-opening concern is not common for the average student who had been reared in an American household. Yet Donetti said they do not allow the differences to get in the way of the New College experience; they have found solace in the close friendships made along the way. The amiable demeanor of New College students is another difference that Donetti found delight in. They noticed that “people here are way more positive about everything in life. It is very uplifting.” And while home may be where the heart is, it is characteristics such as this that lead Donetti to be “in a happier mood when I am in America than back home.” 

They went on to delve into more specifics about the positive academic life at New College. Opportunity to grow through learning is a key fundamental on campus, and events such as student art shows are a part of the many memorable activities that students have the opportunity to participate in. “[My] first art exhibit was the best experience I have had as a student in America. Being able to portrait my artwork the way I envisioned it was so awesome,” they recalled. 

This can be a liberating experience that is not as common in the stricter international academic environment. In order to find a balance between things such as art shows and regular student life, Donetti commented that an on-campus job at New College is essential in staying on top of work commitment, which leaves them with the satisfaction of being a well-rounded student. 

Given the chance, Donetti would encourage other international students like them to reflect on the realities of studying in a different country. “Ask yourself how you want to live, and in which environment. How much would it affect your daily life to have your family far from you? Are you ready to be on your own, ask for help when needed and make new connections? Is the language barrier going to affect you?” 

After just three years as a New College student, Donetti feels as if they have learned much more about themselves as a result of studying abroad. The homework, exams and classes have brought them new experiences and knowledge, but in addition the self discovery that New College has prompted led Donetti to do things they didn’t know they were capable of. “It has broadened my possibilities in life and academically,” they concluded.

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