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San Diego State University

Carolina Cano

International student aiming
for a career helping others

By Victoria Moorwood

A cool breeze slants left. The sun makes her squint. Multicolored rings on the target entice, yet mock her. But she’s not thinking about any of this as she releases her grip on the bowstring and the arrow flies through her fingers across the field, sinking deliberately into the target.

“I just try to not think when I’m shooting,” said sophomore biology major Carolina Cano, an international student from Mexico. “If I focus a lot I get a bad shot because I get pressure on myself. I just think about my mom, or, ‘after this I’m going to eat spaghetti,’ or, ‘after this I need to do homework.’ And then I have a really good shot.”

Archery used to be Carolina’s obsession.

“I like archery because it’s really relaxing, I like the feeling of shooting,” she said. “At first it took me away from school, it was like a different world. But then archery became my life, and school was a way to take me away from archery.”

Carolina Cano

She decided she either needed to go pro or change her focus to school. Carolina didn’t get to the Olympics, although she represented her country as a renowned archer. But for now, it’s back to being a hobby.

“At first it was the feeling of winning, you know, ‘I’m good at something.’ It sounds a little bit selfish, but that’s the truth,” she explained. “When you get the feeling of winning you don’t want to stop, it’s like an addiction.”

She’s shifted that same addictive ambition to her schoolwork. Carolina grew up in Tijuana and wanted an American education in science and medicine. She’s gone back and forth between wanting to be a scientist and a doctor, and is now studying biology here at SDSU in hopes to one day help as many people as possible with modern scientific advances.

“In my country, unfortunately, there are not many opportunities in the sciences,” she said. “We are a third world country, we have a lot of hunger and problems, so all the money goes to that, not research. I came here because I wanted an opportunity to develop myself and have resources, and have a good lab, and have people who care about it.”

In Mexico, Carolina was taught at a small, private, Catholic school. Learning to navigate American diversity was among her hardest transitional challenges.  

“Eighty two percent of Mexicans are Catholic, so you can talk about it and no one will get upset,” she said. “I feel like it’s very liberal over there, and it’s very hard to (tick) someone off. But here, I’ve tried to talk to someone about religion and politics and they’re like, ‘don’t talk about it.’”

In an intro-to-America assimilation class, Carolina was given an ‘off-limits’ list of conversational topics, namely politics and religion. Besides adjusting to conversational norms, Carolina’s also picked up on the fact that American strangers generally don’t discuss their lives or families with each other, whereas Mexicans tend to entertain a degree of familiarity.

Since attending school here, she’s changed—her accent, language proficiency, and even confidence.

“That was the most challenging part, the language, because I was very shy to talk,” Carolina said. “I was not the best at English. When I came to school here I started reading a lot because I wanted to write essays. But talking was a challenge.”

Now more comfortable with her English, she’s found her niche among international students. She’s also befriended many Mexican-American students, although she’s noticed the differences between them and herself. Many of her Mexican-American friends are proud of their Mexican heritage, have family in Mexico and enjoy dual citizenship, but commonly have never been to Mexico, or can only speak—not write—in Spanish.

“Here, they are proud of being Mexicans; I’ve never met someone like that,” she said. “It must be a little bit hard, they’re like in the middle.”

Regardless of their differences, Carolina feels she’s often treated as an immigrant by many Americans, although she is an international student.

Carolina does get homesick. She daydreamed about how her friends might have been celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day as she sat doing homework among oblivious peers. However, she knows why she’s here. 

Once an aspiring politician, Carolina was 3 years old when she announced to her encouraging father she would grow up to be a Congresswoman. But her ambition changed to medicine when she went on a community service excursion to Haiti.

“How can you be worried about simple things when they are starving there, and dying of diseases—like the flu?” Carolina said. “So I just wanted to do something for the world, not only for my country.”

Carolina has travelled throughout Central Europe, Korea and many other countries for archery. She now wants to study abroad.

“The world is a huge place,” she said. “I want to help the whole world, not only one country or people.”