Panama's: Claudia Gonzalez

Claudia Gonzalez
Originally uploaded by CameronMagee
A very exclusive group of students attend Henderson from out of the country. Claudia Gonzalez is one of the exclusive – an international student. Students may not realize it by looking at her, but Gonzalez calls the tiny country of Panama home.

Claudia, pronounced more like the cumulus puffs and less like vaudeville, lives on-campus, and is part of the Henderson International program.

International students hear about Henderson through various ways. Smith said, “Some find us through recruiting agencies, others come to us because of a relative who attended Henderson, and still others just find us on the Internet.”

When asked about how she found the campus, she stated that Henderson visited her school, and had an exhibit setup. She spoke with a representative about coming here, and getting involved in the biology department.

According to Drew Smith, director of International programs, Henderson has 103 students from 30 different countries represented on campus. “Claudia is our only student from Panama,” said Smith.

In Panama, a child can attend the public schools for free, or, to get any quality of an education at all, pay to attend a private high school. Gonzalez’s parents weren’t really left with an option, and had to find a way to put her through private school. Since Gonzalez was privileged enough to attend a rigorous private high school, she was more than prepared for Henderson classes. She is now a sophomore majoring in Biology, and is doing well in her classes because of her Panamanian preparation.

Gonzalez attended one of the most difficult high schools in Panama, and had to persevere to graduate with the GPA that she did. Once out, she had to persevere to make it all the way to Henderson State, and to make it through her rough Freshman year.

With Panama being relatively small, the majority of their income comes from the famous Panama Canal that the United States constructed there almost a century ago. With such a tiny country, and such high fees for the usage of the canal, the country should be an economic paradise. However, the government of Panama is not a perfect system. Every four years, just like the Democratic system of America, elections bring a new leader into office. Here in the United States, this is usually a smooth transition, with no significant change upfront. A new person coming into office turns the poor tiny country upside-down. “Everything changes” Gonzalez says, “If you had a job before, your chances of keeping it are slim.” When a new party takes office, they fire the majority of the old administration is fired. “It’s like a rollercoaster,” she says, “you could have a great job for four years, and then you’re on the street.” The only thing to do is to wait for the office to switch again in four years, and live on what you can until then.

Making it to Henderson State was not an easy task for Gonzalez. She had to arrive with only a suitcase, and set up a dorm room to get her through an entire 9 months without a home visit. Her first week here was the most difficult. Since she had nothing but the suitcase worth of belongings, she had to go shopping immediately, just to have the bare necessities to live. However, with no car, and no friends here on campus, it was her caring suitemates that took care of her. “Without them giving me a ride, I don’t know what I would have done,” said Gonzalez.

Smith said, “I understand the value of international experience as well as some of the challenges of living and studying in another country. He has visited 11 foreign countries, receiving his PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

When an international student comes to the United States, they are allowed into the country because they have been issued an F-1 visa. They can only remain in the country if they are full-time students who take the minimum number of credit hours each semester, not counting summer terms. They cannot work off campus unless they apply for and receive a work permit.

“I don’t care where I am in the world, as long as I’m with my people,” said Gonzalez. Keeping in touch with her friends and family back in Panama can be an expensive chore. A ten-minute phone call costs Gonzalez over $5.

Gonzalez has had to work hard for her college career. She has traveled thousands of miles just to attend class here, and has overcome some major trials to make it as far as she had. Leaving home to go off to college is hard enough for students in-state. Tacking on the element of coming from a foreign country does not make the process any easier. But, Claudia Gonzalez is a persevering Panamanian, and she’s doing just fine here.

Smith had nothing but positive things to say about Gonzalez. “Claudia is a wonderful and bright student. She has excelled in her studies here at Henderson and I am confident that she will do well in whatever she chooses to do."

Claudia Gonzalez