By Annyoceli Santiago
I remember when I was accepted into the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Mayo Clinic two years ago. I was extremely excited about moving to the United States to do research. When I told my friends and professors that I had been accepted to PREP, most of them said “…but there’s nothing in Rochester!”. It really didn’t take away my enthusiasm because I was mostly thinking about the research… And after all, no distractions were great because I could focus on work. After my first week, I already had a group of friends and was introduced to most people in the IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Development) program. I was amazed by how culturally diverse Rochester is, and was happy I was meeting people from many different backgrounds. I was never bored! I was always doing some sort of social activity with all these amazing people in the program. I never understood why some people would say that Rochester was boring… I was having a great time!
Coming from Puerto Rico, especially after living 4 years in the capital city (San Juan), it was refreshing to live in a place where I would feel safe walking outside at night, and where I didn’t have to worry about who is walking behind me. I got used to Rochester pretty quick and it is because it is hard not to get used to all the good things that Rochester can offer. I do not miss the traffic, or the long lines at the mall, and even though I miss the weather I don’t mind the winter.
I focused on all the good things and eventually the things that weren’t “good” disappeared or they are just not an issue anymore. My adaptation to Rochester was so quick that I cannot even say exactly how it happened.
During my interview weekend –when I was applying to graduate school- most of the students’ concerns were about Rochester and the weather. To me it was never a big deal. Yes, it is cold –I am Puerto Rican, believe me when I say it gets cold- but with a few layers and good boots it is not a big deal. Realistically, we spend so much time in the lab that the weather issue becomes insignificant. For me the winter is beautiful, and to this date I still get excited when I see snow.
Rochester as a place… is convenient. I would even dare to say it’s the best place to be a graduate student. Not to mention how affordable it is, it is a smart small town. And I mean it in a very good way! I don’t have to wait hours to go somewhere; I can walk to work because its close and I can afford living close by, and everything that I might need is within reasonable distance. But most importantly, you are welcome everywhere you go. Mayo students/employees are such a good community that it is hard to be bored and not to adapt and fit in.
The difference in culture was not big for me. Puerto Rican culture is highly influenced by the United States; I knew what I was getting into – and it was exactly what I expected. But I know that can be an issue for people moving in from a different country.
I wanted to get some insight from other students that have moved to Rochester from a completely different place. Coming from a different country can always be a challenge, and not everybody might experience it the same way.
Kristina Drizyte agreed to share with us her experience so far. She is a first year graduate student in the Biochemistry & Molecule Biology (BMB) department. This is what she said: “It seems like traveling all the way from Lithuania should have been hard for me. After all, I had to get used to a foreign and distant place all by myself. Luckily I had a very good experience moving in and have enjoyed my new Minnesotan home very much from the beginning. I think what simmered my fear the most is my previous experience trotting the globe: I moved to two new countries across two continents and studied in two different universities during the last four years. The other thing that prepared me for the challenging move to Rochester is finding a roommate (also a first year PhD student) before coming here. We met on the Mayo graduate school message boards and found a great apartment together. Most importantly, I was so excited about starting a new life and getting a PhD degree that those feelings faded away any fears I might have had about living in Rochester.”
Gabriel Martinez Galvez, a first year Biomedical Engineering and Physiology (BMEP) graduate student, also agreed to share his experience: “Rochester is dead on Sundays, cold, and can get pretty lonely. I am a pretty attached person and thinking about how I would not live with my family anymore or around my friends in Colombia for five years was certainly frightful. Then again, coming to Mayo was my best choice academically. I remember meeting all of my colleagues the first day, all properly dressed and with these awesome research backgrounds. Me? Jeans, a sleeveless shirt, tennis shoes and at least a year less of experience despite being around two years older than most people. Best academic choice, best academic choice... Surprisingly, only a weekend later I was already playing volleyball with a bunch of these new faces. Volleyball turned into hanging out with strangers at lunch time, into a whole 15 people soccer team, and into calling a bunch of these strangers friends. Classes have been both challenging and interesting and the level of research at Mayo lives up to every possible expectation. Rochester is definitely dead on Sundays, yet it’s filled with warm-hearted people that are worth any frost bite, and well, if it gets lonely, there’s always Netflix (or work!).”
Like Kristina and Gabriel, there are many students that have moved to Rochester from different parts of the world. And I have to comment that one of the things I loved the most when I moved to Rochester was the cultural diversity.
I think what helped me the most is that I had friends who made me feel welcome. Like I mentioned, I was always involved in some kind of social activity that helped me build relationships with the people in my program, and Rochester was not a boring place like it was described to me before arriving. My biggest advice to anyone who would encounter trouble adapting would be to focus on the positive things in the place, to find at least one person to connect with and –most importantly- to be at peace with work. For us graduate students –and PREP students- research takes the majority of our time, so being at peace with our work is extremely important for our wellbeing.
To everyone who asks me about “how’s life in Rochester” I have nothing but good things to say… but it ultimately depends on each person’s personality and willingness to embrace this wonderful place full of good people and good science.
Annyoceli Santiago is a first year PhD student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program.