Viewpoint by Alexandra Nelipa
Rules of the game: Stay legal as much as you can. That means pay tuition on time. (International student tuition is about five times more than U.S. students.) Be a full-time student (enrolled in 12 credit hours). Be a good student, study well and do not drop classes otherwise you will be out of status and subject to deportation. Have fun!
These are the rules I have had to live by since fall 2008 when I arrived in San Antonio one day before classes started. I found housing at a very friendly and lovely place, Villa Maria residence, a Catholic dorm for girls and young women.
At SAC and at the Villa Maria dorm, I met new friends from different countries: Philippines, Japan, Korea, China, Italy, Mexico, Mongolia and Argentina.
I am from Crimea.
At the International Students Association, we had so many interesting activities: fundraisers selling sausages and chalupas, and a Christmas party!
With ISA, we were protesting and getting signatures against increasing out-of-state tuition, and it was successful for at least one semester.
So many talented teachers helped me along the way so please forgive me if I have not mentioned everyone here.
My first semester ESL classes improved my English. It was hard and I am very appreciative of all my ESL teachers for working with me, for their patience. I know it was not easy.
When I just arrived, I could barely can understand 30 percent of what people said around me and no one understood me. Now what? I understand 100 percent and people can understand at least 30 percent of what I am saying!
I passed reading with a great score and grammar with a “so-so, could be better” score and tried to pass the Accuplacer test four times, but I failed because of grammar and mathematics.
I remember myself sitting in front of the international students adviser who was looking at all my ESL and Accuplacer scores, and then she was calling the visual arts chair and telling him my situation: “We have a student who got a great score for reading, but low scores in math and grammar, so can you let her enroll in a program?
In spring 2009, I enrolled in multimedia design program. That was amazing! I learned about the history of American animation: Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse in the time of a great depression. Is that not impressive? Betty Boop … Snow White … at the animation class.
My first trip to Austin was with the Art Guild for portfolio day with Ms. Rebecca Dietz who also was an adviser to the club at that time.
With the Digital Design club, I went to South by Southwest in 2010 with Ms. Liu Qing. It was a fun and very informative trip. We learned about new digital technologies in video, animation, music and art.
In 2010, I took so many kinesiology classes: racquetball, cardio combo, Latin dance, yoga, aquatic aerobics … you name it! Love all of them and lost 7 pounds.
Illustration technique class, Professor Richard Arredondo made an outstanding still life for drawing. The other day he invited models in different Hispanic dancer costumes for sketching, then took our class to Main Plaza to draw San Fernando Cathedral in plein air … What an experience!
Some prerequisite classes were not that fun; I postponed all of them to the end. Math was the big pain in the butt, but if you have smart and helpful friends from China and Japan, math will be easy!
English Composition 1 and 2 was not that easy at all, but I met such a cool teacher, Jane Focht-Hansen, and I discovered many wonderful American writers during that class.
I do not remember the year when I started working at The Ranger as an illustrator. This job is fun: think fast, draw fast … you have to do it all overnight, about 10 different images. This keeps your imagination and creativity in a really good shape.
Then disaster struck and I had to recreate the entire online newspaper from scratch and retrieve the domain name. That was a challenge. What helped me the most to do this was I graduated in 2012 with a major in web design and multimedia design, then for one year I went through optional practical training with a web design company where I learned many new things and gained good connections and all of this helped me a lot with re-creating the online newspaper.
After optional practical training, I went back to school again to support my student status. (Remember the first rule of the game: Stay legal!)
Also as an international student you have limited rights. To work you have to get work authorization. To get that work authorization, you have to apply for a hardship situation, explained in a short essay with some supporting documentation. You have to pay $380 for it. You have to wait 90 days for it. And you may not be granted it. If you are lucky and got it, then you can work no more than 20 hours out of campus, and that work authorization expires in one year. Then you have to repeat all that process again.
International student adviser Martha Saenz Buchanan helped me all the time to fill out the necessary papers and send them in on time, and provided me with all necessary information. She even went to the Department of Motor Vehicles office with me to find out why it was not possible to extend my driver’s license.
Once there was a big gap in between my jobs, and I was desperately in need of money to pay my tuition, to maintain my status and I decided participate in an animation contest for a River City bank because they offered a great scholarship to the winner. I told myself I have to win; there is no other way. And I did.
It is hard to find a decent job if you have to be a full-time student, so I started working as a janitor at the Tobin Center for The Performing Arts. It was a great place! I was cleaning and vacuuming everything there, including bathrooms and dressing rooms for actors. Most of the time, I had to start my work at 6 a.m.
And as I said, I was a student, but this time, I chose to take all fun classes, such as Painting 1 and 2 with Mr. Tom Willome and Mr. Eduardo Rodriguez over and over again so I improved my skills and I started selling my paintings. That helps me to pay my tuition. Then in the Tobin Center while I was cleaning a dressing room, I met great people who hired me as a scenic artist to a company where I am working until the present.
I was taking ceramic classes five times with the ceramics professor, Ms. Susan Budge. Participating in a student show every year and in 2015 won the Arthur Neal Budge Memorial Ceramics Scholarship for excellence in ceramic works.
Another fun class I took such as Fine Art Photography 1 and 2 with the amazing Professor Dietz. I learned great deal there. After that course, I made my photographic show for Fotoseptiembre USA 2015. Then this year, I won fourth place in 36th Annual College and High School Photography Contest and was published in “Photographer’s Forum,” a winners’ book.
This is just a very quick overview of my last seven years that was tightly connected with San Antonio College. During these years, I spent about $51,000 for tuition, but it was a great investment and an unforgettable experience in my life.
I’ve got a green card, so now I can be like everybody else in this country to live without the fear of becoming subject to deportation at any time, without having to be thinking every single moment about how to get money for tuition.