Forging a family
Dominican student builds relationships with new friends on campus
Decked out in her Cookie Monster slippers, Georgina De Moya grabs a game controller and starts to play Mario Kart with her family.
Her “McDonel family,” that is.
For the environmental studies and agriscience freshman, who is an international student from the Dominican Republic, the friends on her floor in McDonel Hall have become more than just friends.
“To me, they’re all like my brothers and sisters,” De Moya said. “It serves as a distraction, and it makes me feel kind of, not more at home, because my home is very different, but it makes dorm life more like a home.”
De Moya said she misses her family, but the homesick feeling gets easier to deal with, especially with having her new friends around.
The McDonel family
Vroom. Bing. Bing. Vroom. Crash. The sounds of Mario Kart engulf the room.
Simon Thiemann wants his Bowser character back. Aimee Wilson wants to shoot lightning bolts at everyone, and De Moya just wants to be in any place other than last. Again.
“Ah, this game is frustrating,” De Moya said.
Just another night with the McDonel family — video games, dinner, watching a movie.
Thiemann and Wilson, who are here for one semester on a study abroad program, live on De Moya’s floor and are part of this “McDonel family.”
“I think all the guys and girls I’ve met here I’m going to keep contact (with) after the semester,” Thiemann said. “They’re kind of a family here.”
De Moya said she enjoys hanging out with her new friends and taking trips with them, such as a weekend trip to Chicago.
“It was, like, the perfect combination,” De Moya said. “We all just kind of bonded, and we’re really close.”
Peter Briggs, the director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, said it’s important for international students to build a support base.
“I think the idea of finding a new comfort zone is a good thing,” Briggs said. “You want everybody to feel like this is their home during the period of their studies.”
De Moya said her roommate, who is here for one semester on a study abroad program, is just like a big sister to her, and they tell each other everything.
“I’m going to miss her a lot,” De Moya said. “I don’t even want to think about her leaving. When she’s not here … something (feels) missing in the room.”
Sarah Hecht, her roommate, said she feels like Gigi’s her big sister. Gigi is a pet name for De Moya.
“I see both of us on the same stage because we are both here and we both struggle with the same things (being) away from our families,” Hecht said. “On the other hand, I feel like I’m a big sister for her. I feel like I need to care for her.”
Christmas break, a chance to go home, is all De Moya is thinking about. She can’t wait, and neither can her mother, Sonia De Moya.
“I’m counting the days,” Sonia De Moya said. “Having her here, being able to hug her, bug her a little bit.”
Georgina De Moya said she misses the Sunday family meals at her grandmother’s house. She misses the company and the food.
“(I’m) missing my traditions,” Georgina De Moya said. “There are things that are routine.”
Sonia De Moya misses having a companion to go to the grocery store and the salon with her.
They call each other a few times a week.
Sonia De Moya is much happier when Georgina De Moya has time to Skype.
When she calls her daughter, she tells her she wants her back home; she misses her.
“That moment when I go into her room or sometimes when I make dinner … it hits me hard when that happens,” Sonia De Moya said. “It’s not easy. I guess eventually I’ll feel OK.”
In Latin America, family is incredibly important, according to Robert Blake, director for MSU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
“Lots of U.S. kids go off to college and may or may not call home or go home unless around Christmas,” Blake said. “That would be very foreign behavior to kids from Latin America. Family is the hub.”
Blake said Latin American families get together on a regular basis and have larger families.
“Being in touch is something that’s important and is done, not ignored or pushed aside,” Blake said. “You are not alone. You are always surrounded by activity. It’s an entirely different matter when you go abroad.”
Although Georgina De Moya said she misses her family, it’s getting easier on her with time and her friends.
“I’m not going to say I don’t miss my family, because I do, but the more you’re here, the more you get used to it, so it’s kind of easier,” Georgina De Moya said. “It doesn’t feel as bad anymore.”
As part of her scholarship to MSU, Georgina De Moya will go back home for two years after she graduates, but until then, at least she’s got Christmas break.
She said she plans to enjoy a lot of her grandmother’s and aunt’s cooking when she’s home.
Her roommate, who only is here for the semester, said she’ll keep in contact with Georgina. They’ve already booked the bus ride to Detroit to the airport before break together.
Georgina De Moya said she’s loved coming to MSU and would do it all over again. She loves the people, the teachers, her friends and the environment in general.
“I love Michigan State,” Georgina De Moya said. “I am a Spartan now.”