Exchange students reflect on life abroad in Medford

Lucas Barravecchia Prudente, Beatriz Fariñas Martín-Peña and Thomas Crépin pose for a portrait on the steps of the Chandler House on Sept. 29, 2019. Alexis Serino / The Tufts Daily

Upon arriving at Tufts, Beatriz Fariñas Martín-Peña, Thomas Crépin and Lucas Barravecchia Prudente were told, “You are special students here.” These three students, part of this year’s small pool of 15 total exchange students, comprise the entirety of Tufts’ one-year exchange program.   

It may come as a surprise to some that Tufts has a long history of hosting exchange students. Through its partnership with universities overseas, Tufts sends students abroad to study in semester- or year-long programs. As part of the agreement, some of those same schools select and send their own students to Tufts.

Unlike the numerous Tufts students who are chosen to participate in the programs abroad, universities overseas only offer a select few spots at Tufts Crépin, for one, was the only person chosen from his entire university. In order to be selected, each student completes a competitive application and interview process, similar to the process that Tufts students complete to go abroad, according to Julie Dugan, the programs manager for Tufts Global Education Program.

While some students have support from their home universities, others’ paths to Tufts are not as well trodden. Prudente said that his university, La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, had never sent a student to Tufts before.

“There are two Chilean [exchange students], Ignacio Moreira and I. Also, I’m the first person to come from La Católica so… it’s the first time there’s two,” he said.

Getting to Tufts as the first student from his university proved to be a substantial obstacle for Prudente, along with securing a student visa. However, he said that the relationships he had previously formed with Tufts students in Chile motivated him to continue to pursue his goal of studying at Tufts.

According to Dugan, such relationships are common motivating factors for foreign students coming to study at Tufts.

“A lot of times they have had some experience with Tufts students and that is why they are excited about coming to Tufts,” she said.

As a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Martín-Peña said that she was attracted to Tufts’ well-known international relations program. Aside from academic considerations, others cited the overall atmosphere of Tufts as a major draw. 

“I found that Tufts was really open-minded in all their programs,” Crépin said

Like many prospective students, Prudente, Crépin and Martín-Peña developed expectations for what life at Tufts would be like before coming. Prudente, who was familiar with Tufts and had even visited the campus before, said he was unprepared for the rigor of academic life.

“I’d heard about school not being that hard in the U.S. ... but the actual living in college would be hard because Tufts students put too much on their plates,” Prudente said.

He said he quickly realized that was not the case and found himself overwhelmed by a hefty workload.

“It is very focused on readings. I am reading about 300 pages a week,” Prudente said.

“We have a lot of homework here, and I was not expecting that,” Crépin said, echoing Prudente’s sentiment. “Back in France I only have … 20 pages to read for one week to another.”

Despite their prior experience with and exposure to the language, being immersed in English also has presented challenges to the students.

“Being around and listening and speaking in English all the time, it’s really tiring,” Crépin said.

While the structure of classes is different, Martín-Peña remarked on the effectiveness of the U.S. system. 

“I feel like I learn a lot doing all the essays,” she said.

However, the responsibilities of exchange students do not end with academics. On top of the normal workload, many of these students also serve as teaching assistants in language classes.

“Depending on the [university] agreement and the country they are coming from, they will lead recitation groups, and some are house managers,” Dugan said.

Although such work adds to their already busy schedules, the students agreed that it is a worthwhile experience. If selected to be a house manager, an exchange student will live in a foreign language house and organize themed events for the larger Tufts community. Such events help Tufts students improve their language skills while connecting with people from different backgrounds.

Despite the struggles of adjusting to life at Tufts, the exchange students emphasized the value of the experience. Martín-Peña, in particular, said that taking classes with people from a diverse range of majors and class years has been a positive experience.

“People are very respectful here, and I feel free to express my opinions,” Martín-Peña said.

Crépin emphasized that the environment created by Tufts professors is a major change from school in France.

“Here the professors are really behind us. They are really encouraging us to do the best that we can,” Crépin said.

Crépin mentioned that in France, most of the work is done independently of the professors. According to Prudente, getting to work closely with notable professors, including Peter Winn and Mike Mandel, is also a benefit of studying at Tufts.

“I have been sitting in classes close to big people. I’ve been sitting in their classes; that’s just amazing. I don’t think we have such big figures in Católica, or at least they’re not as accessible,” Prudente said.

Prudente, Crépin and Martín-Peña said the most dramatic change, though, is the social scene. At their universities in France, Spain and Chile, students do not live on campus.

“It is super cool to live surrounded by students. With the events and the parties, you have everything you need here,” Martín-Peña said. For her, the services available to students as well as the location of the school are positive aspects of Tufts.

Martín-Peña also mentioned that it took a while for her to adjust to the daily schedule of life in the U.S. In Europe, she and Crépin both said they were used to eating dinner and socializing with friends much later in the night.

Prudente has also noticed changes in social atmosphere. His university, La Pontificia Universidad Católica, is a traditionally conservative and affluent school in a conservative country.

“I have left wing ideas and Católica is a right-wing university, so that might make it a hostile environment for me but that is not that case for Tufts,” he said.

In terms of the wider community, Prudente expressed surprise regarding the hospitality of local Somerville residents.

“I did not expect people to be this nice. People everywhere, whether you are buying groceries at CVS or just walking down the street or asking for directions or talking with your professors, everyone is super nice and super helpful,” Prudente said.

Despite the relatively small size of the program, Tufts is working to expand programming and support systems available to these students.

“It is my goal to expand my activities for them and to create a more extensive buddy program,” Dugan said.

According to Dugan, such a program would involve students who have recently returned from study abroad serving as ambassadors or social mentors for exchange students.

“Students who have returned from abroad who still want that tie to the country they were in, have this wonderful exchange student to forge a friendship with, while also giving them support as they acclimate,” she said.

For now though, Dugan certainly has her eye out for these students and expressed the potential benefit for Tufts students in extending a welcoming hand to them.

“I am hoping whoever reads this article — that they try to connect with these students. They have different perspectives and lived experiences,” Dugan said.

The exchange students share common desires with other Tufts students; they are as eager and excited as four-year students to meet new people and experience what this school has to offer.

“It’s like if you can re-write a new life,” Crépin said.