When Denise Foz graduated from high school in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. with her mother, she had plans to attend a four-year university – and she will. But her first stop was Northern Virginia Community College where, in May 2017, she’ll receive a associate of arts degree in liberal arts with a specialization in psychology.
“Starting at NOVA was really great because I had the opportunity to meet different people from different countries. What I like about NOVA is that it’s so diverse. I didn’t really feel out of place or like an international student; I felt like I belonged here,” Denise said. “This was really good because I was afraid I’d go to college here and just meet the same group of people and I wasn’t sure I would fit in. But everyone was like me; they were trying to find their place here.”
In high school, Denise traveled to the U.S. in the summers and also has family in Northern Virginia, so she had developed an interest in experiencing something different once she graduated high school. Being an international student and studying abroad has matured her and given her the opportunity to make connections with other people and learn about different cultures.
“I’ve always wanted to do something different, get to know more people and learn new things. I thought being able to study abroad would be a good plan. I have relatives who live here in Virginia, so I decided to move here and live with family,” she said. “It was really different because I came from a city and living in the suburbs was kind of different for me. It matures you and gives you different priorities. Back at home, it was all busy with social life, but coming here I realized that there are other important things and I have so many other responsibilities. So being here is a humbling experience.”
Denise admits that NOVA was not her first choice; instead, she was looking into programs at George Mason and other colleges and universities in the area. She came up against some challenges being an international student, but found that NOVA’s guaranteed admissions program would help her transition into higher education in the United States.
While studying at NOVA, Denise worked in the bookstore, the Starbucks Café and the Student Life Office where her connections started to really grow. Before becoming involved, she took her classes and returned home –spending very little time on campus outside of the classroom.
“The people I’ve met at work in the café and in Student Life are great. My first year here, I didn’t have many friends. I would take classes and leave. But being able to connect with people and make friends, it made it feel more like home and helped me feel less homesick,” she said. “Being in Student Life presented healthy competition for me because people always want to strive harder, join more activities and organizations and want to transfer to schools like Georgetown. So I always feel like it keeps me going and I strive just as hard.”
Denise said she would advise other international students to consider studying abroad and opening themselves up for different opportunities and experiences. She also said it’s important that people don’t count community colleges out because they’re a great start financially and provide just as many opportunities for students to succeed in higher education and reaching their career goals.
“It’s really the best experience and people shouldn’t be afraid to try studying abroad. At first, you might feel like you don’t belong and it may be hard to adapt. But a lot of international students, especially at NOVA, have a great opportunity to excel,” Denise said. “People sometimes underestimate or judge the community college experience, but I feel like I’ve been given a great education here. And the professors I take, they teach classes at other schools like George Mason and they even suggest starting at NOVA or a community college is a good plan.”
After she graduates from NOVA in May, Denise plans to transfer to George Mason University to continue studying psychology. She’s still deciding whether she wants to eventually study nursing or become a physician’s assistant, but her goal is to one day work in a hospital to help others.
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.