Transfer student witnesses cultural barriers


contributed by Sofia Saldarriaga

Sophomore Sofia Saldarriaga poses with her friends at a party in Columbia. Saldarriaga moved to North Carolina in July to become a transfer student at Northwest.

 Imagine being the new student at a new high school in a different country on a different continent. This overwhelming thought became sophomore Sofia Saldarriaga’s reality this school year. 

About a year ago in Colombia, Saldarriaga decided, with the help of her parents, that she was going to become a transfer student in the United States.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for college,” Saldarriaga said.

Instead of transferring for a full year, Saldarriaga opted for six months because of her close relationship with her parents.

“Leaving my parents to come live here was way more difficult because I am an only child,” Saldarriaga said. 

But it wasn’t as simple as just deciding to transfer. Saldarriaga had to consult with her aunt, who lives in the Northwest school district, in order to relocate in the United States for six months. She also needed approval from Guilford County Schools in order to be able to attend. In doing so, Saldarriaga had to send her transcript from her previous school, buy all new materials and choose an entirely different schedule from what she had been used to. 

Although Saldarriaga has only been in Greensboro for about two months, she has already witnessed many differences. In Colombia, Saldarriaga attended a small, all-girls private school with about 20 people per grade level. In comparison, Northwest High School has about 500 people per grade level.

“Twenty versus five-hundred students–it blows my mind!” Saldarriaga said.

Within these massive class sizes, Saldarriaga says she has encountered many different types of students. In Colombia, she had never seen a pregnant teenager besides in movies and she had not been exposed to the LGBT community.

Additionally, Saldarriaga has discovered that the assumed stereotypes of American high school students are not true at all. 

“There is a stereotype of having like cheerleaders, jocks and those specific groups in America because it’s what you see in the movies,” Saldarriaga said. “Cheerleaders can be smart, and jocks are not always popular.”

Not only has Saldarriaga noticed differences in the people, but also in specific behaviors. She is accustomed to students cheating during games because it is something that she grew up experiencing. She also believes that bullying is not as prominent in Northwest as it is in Colombia.

She had been bullied in her previous school, which was another reason to transfer to a high school in the United States.

“My boyfriend cheated on me with my best friend,” Saldarriaga said. “My mental health was not good.”

Overall, Saldarriaga has enjoyed the experience of transferring to Northwest. She feels that she has adapted well so far, and she has many friends as a result of joining the field hockey team. 

“I don’t get lost going to my classes anymore, which is a miracle,” Saldarriaga said.

Although Saldarriaga misses her family and is looking forward to returning home in early February, she feels that it is likely she will come back to the United States someday. 

“I wouldn’t think twice about returning as a transfer student,” Saldarriaga said.