By ARLAETH RAMIREZ and ADRIAN FORD
Jonathan Lerma, 19, has settled into apartment-style housing for his semester at Pima Community College but misses family aspects of his home in Durango, Mexico.
“I can only eat frozen food so much,” he said. “I really miss home-cooked food.”
Lerma’s friend Irving Gonzalez, 20, of Chihuahua, Mexico, also cited meals as a challenging adjustment.
“The biggest difference between our housing here and our homes in Mexico is the food,” he said.
Lerma and Gonzalez enrolled at PCC through Bécalos, a program that provides Mexican students with scholarships to study abroad.
PCC welcomed 69 Bécalos students in August as part of an ongoing initiative.
In addition to scholarship funds, Bécalos pays for part of the students’ living expenses. The students are expected to raise money and reciprocate for future students.
Marlenne Trejo, chancellor at Technological University of Saltillo, said Bécalos students are usually the first ones in their families to go to college.
“Some of these students haven’t traveled anywhere,” she said. “For them to come to a whole different country, that is just amazing to them.”
Lerma has noticed differences between the U.S. and his home country.
“The streets of Tucson have a lot less holes than in Mexico,” he said. “The cars here stop for pedestrians. In Mexico, you have to wait until you’re clear and run for it.”
Pima helps the new arrivals integrate into clubs and activities to become a part of the community.
Emmanuel Cabrera, 21, of Pachuca, Mexico has met many different people and participates in lots of different activities.
“The Bécalos program is a good way to link students from Mexico with international programs that let students study and learn about diverse cultures,” he said.
Another Bécalos student is Jacobo Quiñones, 21, of Pachuca, Hidalgo Mexico.
“Bécalos changes your perspective on things,” Quiñones said. “It helps university students to improve all the skills and knowledge in a completely different country and we also get to share the culture with the different international students.”
Jesus Torres, 20, of Saltillo, Coahuila, is grateful he was selected.
“Going back to Mexico and being able to say I came to the United States to study will be the best, because not everyone gets chosen to study in a different country,” he said. “I can’t explain how grateful I am.”
Ricardo Castro-Salazar, vice president for international development, enjoys watching the students expand their horizons.
“The impact Bécalos has on these students is rewarding to us,” he said.
Some students don’t have money to buy a suitcase or a jacket to bring into the U.S., said Vicky Garza, president of a mobility program.
“This program has changed their lives and I see the happiness it brings these students,” she said. “It’s an experience they’ll never forget.”
Gonzalez echoed Garza’s comments.
“Sure I miss home, but I am learning a lot from my time here in the U.S,” he said. “I hope to take the knowledge that I’ve gained back home to Chihuahua.”