“Frustration and satisfaction. Loneliness and companionship. Anger and happiness. These are just a few of the emotions that the 21 Central American students have experienced in their first two months on campus.”- Excerpt from the Nov. 8, 1985 Threefold Advocate.
Marcia Hernández, a Walton alumna from Costa Rica, was one of the 21 Walton Scholars of the first generation in 1985. Pursuing a career in Journalism, she wrote for the Threefold Advocate during her time at John Brown University. She is credited for publishing one of the first articles about the Walton students and their adjustment process.
“For the students from Belize and Honduras, the language hasn’t been a problem, since English is their native language,” she wrote. A respected Belizean curated website, Belize Hub, states that the official language is English due to long centuries of British colonial rule. However, Belizean Creole and Spanish are also commonly spoken. For Aurora Balam, senior accounting major from Belize, this was her experience. “We have a unique history, for it was the only British colony in the region, and hence why we acknowledge English as our first language,” she said.
For Honduran Waltons, language posed a difficult challenge throughout the generations. There is a contrast to what the first Honduran Waltons from the Bay Islands – colonized by the British crown – endured as opposed to what Honduran students from the city experienced. Walton 2011 alumna Ericka Carrasco shared her struggles adjusting to language. “The hardest thing about coming to JBU was speaking English,” she said, “I did not graduate from a bilingual school, and I just learned the basics.” During her time at JBU, most students were from North America and very few learned Spanish. “I used to greet people in my native language, and of course, they did not understand when I talked to them,” she said.
In her article, Hernández mentioned the demands of the university system. “They expect you to do a lot of research on your own, as well as reading other books,” she wrote. For Carrasco, the workload was tough but manageable. “I was taking 15 credit hours a semester while doing work-study and being a project manager in Enactus,” she commented, “I pulled a lot of all-nighters, but everything worked out in the end.”
Hernández points out that the Walton scholars agreed that “it is frustrating to dedicate a lot of time studying for a test and just get a passing grade.” However, for current Walton freshmen, the academic experience is more diverse. Moisés Madrid, engineering major from Honduras, said: “I consider the workload to be adequate,” he said, “as a freshman, it allows me to go out and be involved in other activities, but also to give time to each of my classes.”
Hernández stated that some students felt they belonged here and were delighted by a culture different from their own. Wilber Aguilar, freshman international business major from Guatemala, shared his experience adapting to JBU: “Before coming here, I was scared to not feel welcomed,” he said, “but my perspective changed when I noticed that people wanted to get to know me.” Moreover, Franklin Serrano, engineering major from Panama, knows that his major requires him to do his best. “Discipline, determination, and effort are essential to obtain the best results,” he said.
Hernández concluded her article by saying that all Central Americans had started to feel at home after going through a lot of adjustments. Gabriel Williams, Walton Scholarship director, shared advice on culture shock and homesickness through his own experience as a missionary in Uganda. “One of the challenges when you go somewhere is that you want to find a sense of belonging,” he said, “When I went to Uganda, I had big expectations, but how different everything was got overwhelming.” Williams spent ten years in Uganda, and during his mission work, he endured various struggles like getting sick with malaria. “What got me through those hard situations was reaching out, and that was the first step towards feeling like I belonged.”
The Walton Scholarship Program – funded by the Walton Family Foundation – provides 60 scholarships yearly for students from Central America and Mexico. On August, 11 Walton scholars began their studies at JBU and welcomed the centennial year.