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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: International student's dream of attending MU comes true

By PAULA OTTONI/MISSOURIAN READER
October 17, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Paula Ottoni is a strategic communication major at the Missouri School of Journalism. Ottoni is an international student from Sao Paulo, Brazil. After a long and difficult journey across the globe, her dream of studying in the United States will be complete when she graduates in May 2014.

It was August 2009. I can still remember when I heard the news. I was in Chile standing alone in a small room with very colorful walls — orange was never my favorite color. My parents spent years warning me against long distance phone calls, so when I received a call from my father I immediately knew what it was about. Only two weeks and a very large tuition bill stood between me and my dream of attending college in the United States.

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"It didn't work," he said. "We just couldn't make it work."

My father spent his entire life working for banks, so it was slightly ironic that the global financial crisis hit us so hard it left us gasping for air. His job relocated my family 14 times — it gave us everything, and then it made sure to take it back. We tried applying for loans, talking to family and friends, but we simply could not afford my college education. There was no way around it — my plan to move to America, study, and take control of my own life hadn't worked.

I started planning my trip back home to Brazil — this was Chile at the time. My friends were international students like myself, so they moved to different corners of the globe after high school graduation. I lived with my mother in a small apartment in Santiago, Chile's capital. The rest of my family were a few time zones away. Staying in Chile didn’t make sense, but I no longer belonged in Brazil, my home country.

For several months, I was paralyzed by uncertainty. I worked as much as I could, but my ambition and a high school diploma weren't enough to pay for my college education. At this point, I had lost most of my family's support. I was advised, understandably so, to go back home and settle for an inferior education.

I never stopped looking for more affordable options. State schools were my best bet, but my father said moving to America would not be an option in the foreseeable future. For a few months, this kept me from applying to other schools. But in April 2010, I decided to take my chances. A few weeks later, acceptance letters started coming in. When I shared the news with my parents, they said they had applied for a loan.

I had never been to the Midwest, nor had I heard about MU before applying. Still, things began to fall into place as soon as I received my acceptance letter. I spent the next few months applying for a student visa, contacting MU's International Student Center, and taking care of the logistics of moving abroad.

I was the first person in my family to pursue undergraduate education in the United States. This was a lengthy and bureaucratic process, but it didn’t matter — I was so close. After moving nearly 14 times, I finally had a choice: America was my lucky number 15.

I remember standing near The Columns by Jesse Hall in a warm August afternoon. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. I was surrounded by hundreds of freshmen who chatted excitedly about their first impression of college. There were no familiar faces in the crowd, but I was in ecstasy. As the tradition goes, I ran through The Columns that welcomed me into the Class of 2014. I ran as fast as I could, and I never looked back.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.