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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Welcome to the Dirty T: Venezuelan-American student Laura Berkey finds new, quirky home in Tucson

    Tobey Schmidt

    While many students transitioning to the culture of the UA face challenges, they often find a comfort under the shadow of the Santa Catalinas Mountains.

    This rang true for Laura Berkey, an education sophomore who moved to Tucson from Caracas, Venezuela.

    Berkey’s parents worked as missionaries in Caracas, so she spent her entire life immersed in Venezuelan culture.

    “It’s been different coming to Tucson,” Berkey said. “The cultural adjustment was strange for me because my parents are from the U.S., so I think I supposed that I understood American culture by having observed the way they exemplified it.”

    Coming to the U.S. for college, Berkey had to adjust not only to American culture, but also the culture surrounding college.

    Reflecting on her freshman year culture shock, Berkey viewed her sophomore year as a time to deepen connections and increase her involvement.

    “For a lot of people, college is a time to expand through hobbies and interests and try things out just for the heck of it,” Berkey said. “So I’ve gotten to do that and step out of my comfort zone with my writing and my own art.”

    Berkey said that finding communities in which she could develop personal relationships helped her transition into her new life at the UA.

    “My freshman year, it was a lot more feeling like I was observing what was happening, and now being able to be a part of that is really cool,” Berkey said.

    RELATED: Welcome to the Dirty T: Alejandro Reguant of Spain came to the UA for tennis, and loves Chipotle

    Berkey said she loves Tucson and its quirkiness because the longer she lives here, the more the Old Pueblo unfolds like a story.

    “I feel like when people initially move her they say, ‘Oh, it’s dirty,’ and ‘There’s not much to do,’ but the longer you stay, the more you see the layers unfold. I’ve really enjoyed that process of getting to know the city.”

    According to Berkey, the myriad of specialized communities is what makes the Dirty T so diverse.

    She said the myriad of locally owned businesses and shops scattered throughout Tucson represent this diversity. “I really love the circus arts community, which is kind of a weird, quirky thing to get into, but even the poetry community, slam poetry events are great,” Berkley said. “Just cool people, doing quirky stuff and loving it.”

    Within the variety of these quirky, unique groups, Berkey said she found her passion in helping Tucson’s large homeless population.

    “Every Saturday, a group of friends and I prepare a meal for homeless people, go to the park on Stone and give out food and talk to people and just foster relationships there,” Berkey said.

    In addition to serving Tucson’s homeless population, Berkey volunteers with Tucson’s refugee community.

    She plays with refugee children in the low-income housing near campus and enjoys every minute of it. Berkely said there is a dire need for volunteer service in Tucson.

    RELATED: From Norway to Tucson: International student Olav Gregersen’s story

    Even though she found comfort within these niches, continually acclimating to the disparities between American and Venezuelan culture proved to be one of the more challenging feats, Berkely said.

    “Latin American culture is really friendly and warm—people are very touchy, we greet each other with a kiss on the cheek,” Berkey said. “Adjusting to that, to me felt very cold, the way people act here in the U.S., and having to realize that it wasn’t that people were being cold but that people just relate differently here. I think that was hard for me, feeling a bit distant from people.”

    Despite the U.S.’s differences, Berkey said the hardships of this transition move have helped her grow as a person , and the constant challenges have been purposeful in her personal development .

    Regarding the future, Berkey plans on working in bilingual education either in the Southwestern U.S. or abroad.

    She said that Tucson especially offers her a lot of job opportunities in the future, as the city hosts a high population of bilingual schools.

    “Education is a global need, so it opens up a lot of opportunities for me to live internationally,” Berkely said. “I’ve got a long life—I figure I’ll live a couple different places.”

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