Paulita Lara remembers asking herself at International Orientation, “Am I really that international?”
After meeting her classmates from around the world, she was surprised to hear that many students had lived in several locations. Even beyond the international cohort at Princeton, Lara was in awe of how her peers viewed the world as wholly accessible.
Born in Ecuador, Lara moved when she was two years old to Bloomington, Indiana, where her father works in academia. She returned to Ecuador each summer, but Ecuador and Indiana are the only two places she’s ever called home. “I have Ecuadorian values as a result of my upbringing, but American society has shaped my ideals and goals,” she says. She studies at Princeton under a student visa.
Her unique perspective as an international student rooted in American culture has made her an asset to the Davis International Center, where she now serves as an orientation leader. She says she has helped educate her international friends about academic and social life in the United States.
“It’s a big shock to many people. I can help international students assimilate to Princeton culture because I understand how they’re feeling.” The conversation about cultural context begins on campus. Lara participates in “Tea and Talk,” an informal weekly discussion for international students at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. “We discuss race and culture in the classroom, but this program is strictly from the international perspective.”
Lara is a premed student who is concentrating in neuroscience and intends to pursue a certificate in linguistics and global health policy. Her goal is to become a trauma surgeon. “I want to apply my medicine in communities that need better health care on an individual basis,” she says. “In small communities, you’re more than just a doctor.” She hopes to work with the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders after Princeton.
However, she is not waiting until graduation to gain experience in the field. She pursued an internship with Child Family Health International in Bolivia. Sponsored by the Office of International Programs, Lara shadowed pediatricians in the capital city of La Paz and its surrounding rural communities.
Although study abroad has deepened her international perspective, Lara says she always looks forward to returning to campus and sharing her experiences with her peers. “This is home now.”