Kirsten Rasmussen can name countless ways in which life in New Paltz is different from life at her home in Latacunga, Ecuador.
"Here people plan. In Ecuador we don't plan; we just go to people's houses or go to the movies and see whatever's playing. Also, here
people shake hands when they meet, but in Ecuador there is no personal space. In the Latin culture you hug and kiss on the cheek when you meet new people. "
The food, she explained, is different too.
"In Ecuador we cook everything from scratch, but here everything is pre-made and packaged in cans and envelopes."
Adjusting to these cultural differences has been difficult for Kirsten, though with the help of her peers in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, the transition has been made easier.
During her time in the ESL program at New Paltz, Kirsten met other international students dealing with the same issues and going through similar experiences. She made what she considered to be "automatic friends" with students from Jordan, Colombia, and Japan, with whom she still keeps in touch.
Kirsten first came to the Hudson Valley as an exchange student 11 years ago during her senior year of high school. After earning her bachelor's degree in Ecuador and working there as a licensed child psychologist, she decided to return to the family that hosted her years before in the Hudson region and enroll at SUNY New Paltz.
After completing the college's ESL program, Kirsten joined the Latin American Studies program as an undergraduate student. She plans to complete the program and earn her graduate degree at New Paltz in special education so that she can teach special education students in the United States.
Kirsten also hopes to one day return to Ecuador to create a program that would give students with special needs the opportunity to attend school, something she admits many Ecuadorian children with disabilities don't have the chance to do.
Major: Latin American Studies
Interests: Walking and nature
Goals: To start a family, become a teacher, and return to Ecuador every summer
Why New Paltz? Kirsten came to New Paltz because of its ESL program. She felt the program offered international students a good starting point for life in the United States.