By Adriana Beltrame dos Santos February 14, 2018

This ongoing series of posts will describe the journeys of international students who come to CIIS from countries around the globe. I will explore the struggles, challenges, failures, and successes of people who signed up for a rollercoaster of emotions and transformations to pursue a degree at this unique university.

I first heard about CIIS seven years ago.

I was born in Curitiba, Brazil, where I lived all my life before coming to the US in 2016. Although I enjoyed the idea of exploring different cultures, I never expected to have the experience--except, perhaps, with a backpacking trip at some point.

Turning Dreams to Reality

One day, Washington, a dear friend and talented astrologer, brought up the subject of integral and holistic education during one of our three-hour-long conversations. He told me about a school he'd heard about in the 1980s, and that he had been considering attending himself. He showed me letters (handwritten letters!) he had exchanged with a Brazilian couple studying at CIIS. They told him the most interesting stories about the school and their life in the Bay Area. Washington told me about the preparations he made to attend CIIS himself. In the end, life's movements called him to stay in Brazil. But he thought CIIS would be an excellent fit for me.

The more fascinated I became about the possibility of attending CIIS, the more scared I became as well. For some time, I secretly considered the possibility, not confiding the idea to my family or friends. Initially, it was more comfortable to daydream about it without any commitment. Moreover, I confess that I was not very fond of what I knew about U.S. culture. Besides, it was daunting to read about how expensive San Francisco is, and about its housing issues. Converting the currency would paralyze me, because I had no guarantee of getting any kind of grant, scholarship, or other external source of funding. At the same time, I was falling more and more in love with CIIS' integral outlook, its pedagogical approach, and the way it expands the boundaries of traditional higher education. I could not even choose one single program--I wanted to enroll in them all.

Getting There

I was never as close to my family as when I started to be honest about the dreams I had for my future while opening myself up to receive their support. At first it felt as if I was betraying my people. Gradually, as we communicated deeply with each other and cried and laughed together, my dream became their dream, too. Magic started to happen: for each obstacle, a new solution came. Numbers were not so daunting anymore. In fact, those same numbers became doors inviting the impossible to happen. And it did.

A Brazilian friend, Andressa Staut, who shared my dream of coming to CIIS herself, joined this adventure and became another big support in this journey. We talked about our shared fears and insecurities and came up with creative ways to deal with the challenges. I feel incredibly lucky I was never completely alone. Five years passed from the moment I first heard about CIIS to the moment I severed from my people and arrived in San Francisco with my student visa. When I look back at the amount of details I had to take care of to get here, I get tired just thinking about it. It was draining to navigate such a long process of forms, red tape, and finances. And the journey was just beginning.

Two Years Later...

It has been almost two years since I became a CIIS masters student in the East-West Psychology program. The culture shock still gets me, just as my love for this experience grows. Meanwhile, I keep meeting people who are considering CIIS. Some of them are Brazilians, which excites me incredibly!

I am writing here to share not only my own experiences, but the stories of other international students as well. Hopefully this series will bring comfort, new information, and companionship to students from afar. I hope that students who are considering CIIS will find this series helpful and inspiring, and that together we can become a hub for collaboration and mutual support. I have already been in conversation with many prospective students from all over the world, because they somehow found me. If you are just finding me right here, right now, I invite you to reach out with your ideas, questions, and concerns. Contact me at: abeltramedossantos@ciis.edu. Let's make it happen together!


Photo of Adriana Beltrame dos SantosAdriana Beltrame is a Brazilian MA student in the East-West Psychology program, a CWS Writing Fellow, and a Bridge Program mentor. She lives within a universe of many interests, journeying from meditation to astrology, cosmology, mythology, and integral education. Her background is visual arts, and every now and then she explores different forms of artistic improvisation. In short, she lives in constant curiosity about the world, culture, nature, people, consciousness, and the unknown..

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