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From Mexico to Austin to Paris: One Longhorn’s Personal Journey

morales ancira

3 July 2012

WHAT DO THE UT TOWER and the Eiffel Tower have in common? Former UT English as a Second Language (ESL) student Manuel Morales Ancira has spent time living near both of them, something he never dreamed of when he first came to Austin from Mexico in 2007. Today, Manuel, 23, is a senior business administration major with a minor in international business, and he will complete his degree in December 2012. ESL training offered through the UT International Office was the first step in Manuel’s journey to becoming a college graduate.

Manuel credits the skill-building and encouragement he received from his ESL teachers for helping him create the foundation for academic success. After graduation, Manuel’s hopes to work for an U.S. company with an international focus, so that he can continue to travel internationally. He also hopes to start his own business some day.

Here, Manuel discusses his experience with the International Office’s ESL training and Study Abroad programs and how they helped him gain new perspectives on the world and all it has to offer him.

What influenced you to come study at UT?

    I decided to come to Austin because my cousin had just graduated from UT. I joined the ESL program thanks to my cousin’s suggestion. During my ESL classes, I learned about the many opportunities UT has to offer, explored the beautiful campus, and felt welcomed by the diverse  student population. Initially, it never crossed my mind that I would actually end up enrolling here at UT. I have fallen so much in love with everything about Austin that, after five years, I’m still here. My blood is now burnt orange!

    How did your experience with ESL services help prepare you for success?

      I see ESL as a turning point in my life. It gave me really useful tools to help get me where I am now. I had the most amazing ESL teachers who not only taught me English, but also prepared me to go to college here in the U.S.  John Ball, one of my writing teachers, would take us to the computer lab and give us a short amount of time to craft a well-written essay about a specific topic previously unknown to us. These writing exercises were helpful for preparing me for college-level writing and research. Some of my class exams, like U.S. and Texas Government, have actually used this same structure.

      What is one thing you remember most about your ESL experience?

        I have so many good memories of my ESL days! I remember every single one of my teachers. To this day, I am still in contact with most of them. They have been with me since day one, giving me the basic tools I needed to be successful in college, and I am really thankful to them. They always told me they had no doubt  I could study in a prestigious program like McCombs if I really wanted to and worked hard for it. Even today, five years later, I know I can count on them whenever I need help with a school assignment or simply need someone to talk to. I really hope they can be with me the day of my graduation in December because they are an important part of my accomplishment.

        Why did you want to study abroad - and in particular, why France?

        I was excited to take advantage of all the opportunities UT has to offer – including an amazing study abroad program for management majors with one of the most prestigious universities in Europe. Studying in Paris was a great opportunity to get experience related to my minor in international business and to apply the two years of French I took at UT. I really loved experiencing France’s history, culture, architecture, and food!

          What did you do on a daily basis while studying in France?

            I had classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which allowed me to travel on the weekends. On class days, I would wake up on the morning and have breakfast - pains au chocolat and croissants were my favorites.  I would go to classes for about six hours with a one-hour break in the middle for lunch. The school cafeteria was a really interesting experience. I discovered the French like to eat raw meat; it is really delicious to them. I was also introduced to couscous, kebab (delicious!), and the many different flavors of macaroons.

            At night, I would stop in one of the many neighborhood stores to buy some authentic French wine, a baguette, and some dinner. Enjoying friends, listening to French music, and looking at the Eiffel Tower from my window in the evening were all priceless!

            What is one thing you learned about yourself and the world based on your study abroad experience?

              First, I learned that culture shock really does exist. It was a little bit hard at first - life in Austin and life in Paris are really different. However, after a couple of weeks, I felt much more comfortable. I realized that a “normal day” for people in different countries can be completely different from a normal day stateside. The metro is a really important part of daily life for Parisians, but most people cannot live without a car here in Austin. I also learned that even if people have very different backgrounds in terms of our languages, beliefs, and values, we all can come together and have an amazing time.

              What have the opportunities provided through the UT International Office (ESL, Study Abroad) meant to you personally?

                My time with the ESL team significantly improved my English skills, ultimately helping me get accepted to one of the best universities in the country. This encompasses my first real interaction with the rest of the world. Before moving to Austin, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to meet people from distant places, and now some of my best friends are from places as diverse as France, Argentina, Czech Republic, and Korea.

                Additionally, studying in France allowed me to prove to myself that I was able to go “out there” and survive regardless of the challenges presented to me. I really took my trip to Europe seriously, visiting nine different countries, each one teaching me a different lesson. I experienced one of the most amazing cultures, lived in a very dynamic international city, met the most incredible people, and learned so much about myself.

                Any advice for other international students or those considering study abroad?

                  ESL students: you can be as successful as you want. Not being a native English speaker or not being able to speak English perfectly doesn’t mean you won’t be able to accomplish your goals. It may make things a little bit more challenging, but not impossible. Besides, the extra effort you put in will be recognized by others, and it will help you grow. Don’t be afraid to try new things and show the world your cool accent!

                  For those interested in studying abroad, I would tell them to go for it! You will get to know yourself better, learn about the world, meet the most amazing people, and make new best friends.

                  Interview & Photograph by Angie Pastorek

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