FIU Wasn’t My First Pick—How I Learned to Love it Anyways

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When I applied to colleges, I knew the deciding factor would come down to dollar signs. I wanted to graduate college debt-free. When my dream school University of Miami offered me a 50 percent scholarship, I declined and went to Florida International University instead. The full price of FIU’s tuition costs less than the remainder of what I would have to pay at UM, but FIU was offering to pay it all for me.

And so I went. Grudgingly, but I went.

In my first semester, I took IDH 1931, Introduction to Honors College and Leadership Seminar. The class was explained as the equivalent of FIU’s First Year Experience class, but reserved for students in the Honors College. All my other classes that semester simply satisfied prerequisites. Most had their highs and lows, but were mainly recaps of things I had learned in high school. My favorite class was, by far, IDH 1931.

Our professor, Eric Feldman, took the course syllabus and fleshed it out, making sure he was able to highlight the university’s best features. In our hour-a-week meetings, he managed to take the class to the FIU Police Station, visit the FIU Stocker AstroScience Center and Observatory and tour the campus to get a better feel for it.

Perhaps the best part of the class, though, was “40 Things to do at FIU.” This was an assignment Professor Feldman gave us, where he split the class into groups of four students each, and gave us a list of 40 activities that showcased FIU’s student life. For each one, the group simply had to take a picture completing the activity. Some were simple, like reading the newspaper or listening to the FIU Student Media radio station. Others were a bit more challenging. My favorite was #38: SUPER MEGA BONUS – Find the airplane on campus.

While FIU started as a handful of buildings on an airfield, there remains only one plane on the property. It has become a bit of an art piece, with graffiti calling for the liberation of Cuba: The propellers even say “Cuba Libre,” Spanish for “free Cuba.” These activities forced us to explore campus, socialize and join clubs and make friends. They brought me out of my shell and showed me events, activities and people on campus that I could grow to truly appreciate.

Aside from the class, one other group of people made my first semester at FIU amazing: my advisors, who shaped my college career in a way that led me to where I am now and helped me find a subject that I feel a true passion for. One of the advisors met with me only once in that first semester, but he listened to my dilemma. I wasn’t sure whether to study English or computer science. As we talked, he teased out of me what I liked from each, and eventually introduced me to computational linguistics. I was hooked. Even now, four years later, as I work on my Master’s thesis, I remember that conversation as putting me on the track to my degree choices.

Coming to Florida International University had never been one of my first choices. I made the decision because of money and it was convenient. But through getting involved and meeting with advisors, I learned to love my choice. FIU is my alma mater, and I’m proud to call myself a Panther.

Gabriel is working towards his MA in Linguistics at Florida International University. He has a passion for reading, technology, and AI (which won't take over the world, btw).

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