Arts & CultureEveryday People

Everyday People

I have driven past the UGA Family and Graduate Housing buildings off of College Station Road many times over the past six years, but I have never actually spent any time at the apartments. The homogenous structures are drab, institutional and a bit outdated, but there are some nice grassy courtyards and a couple of big, shady trees to read a book under. I visited the spot on a day that felt more like May than mid-March, so there were several children running around outside.

I met Dario Gonzales as he was walking by with a friend and carrying a bag of groceries. They were on their way to his Family Housing apartment on Rodgers Road to cook dinner. Living in Family Housing and coming from a large city in South America, Dario’s everyday life differs from that of a typical UGA student. He offered some interesting perspectives on life in Athens.

Flagpole: You live over in family housing?
Dario Gonzales: Yeah, I live in Building S.

FP: Are you a student here at UGA?
DG: I am a graduate student. I’m getting my PhD in mathematics education… I’m trying to get my PhD in mathematics education.

FP: Where are you from?
DG: I’m from Chile. From the capital city, Santiago.

FP: What was the adjustment like, moving to America? Had you ever been to this country before coming to Athens?
DG: I was in Texas before, in Austin. But just for, like, eight months there. And that is like the honeymoon because everything is different and you enjoy everything well. But when I came here to Athens, everything was different because I had to study. And, of course, it’s totally different. First of all, the language is something complicated, because you’re not going to interact normally with people, so that makes you not want to talk. So, you need to practice your English and you cannot meet people, so you feel alone. And it’s a big circle. It’s difficult.

FP: Do you like living over here?
DG: The first semester [I lived here], I wasn’t living in Family Housing. I was living in an apartment [off campus]. I didn’t feel very comfortable in there. I wanted to live in a place like Family Housing, because I know that everyone is a graduate student. So, I’m pretty sure my neighbor is a graduate student. So, yeah, it feels, like, safer here.

FP: I assume you spend a lot of time on campus, but do you go other places around Athens? Like, where do you spend your free time?
DG: I don’t know any places around Athens, because I don’t have a car. And that’s a big problem [laughs]. I’m not used to living in a small town like Athens. The city where I lived was huge, like six million people. So, the public transportation is enough to go everywhere… Here, if you don’t have a car, like in my case, I don’t go out much. I mean, between campus and my home. I don’t even know Atlanta. I have been in the airport, but…

FP: So, have you ever gone anywhere else in the country?
DG: Yeah. For this spring break, I went to San Francisco to visit a friend, someone who I met in Texas.

FP: What was your impression of San Francisco?
DG: Oh, it’s a beautiful city. Yeah, beautiful city. I would love to live there.

FP: Better public transportation, maybe.
DG: Yep.

FP: How do you feel about your classes here at UGA?
DG: Now, I feel great. At the beginning it was hard because my listening wasn’t really good. But now I’m OK. Yeah, now I love them because I understand what is happening. I can participate in the class. But at the beginning, it was complicated.

FP: So, had you studied English before you came here?
DG: I studied in a public school in my country. We have English classes in high school. But if you are in a public school, that means nothing, OK? It’s really bad. So, I didn’t have a clue about English until I came to Texas. I started studying and trying to learn real English there.

FP: What were you doing in Texas?
DG: Uh, this is a really long story. I am a Fulbright scholar. So, the type of Fulbright scholarship that I had gives you an English class before you start your program. They decide where they send you to study English. So, they sent me to Texas. It wasn’t my decision.

FP: How did you like Austin?
DG: Yeah, it’s a great city. I had a really good time.

FP: Do you spend any time downtown here in Athens?
DG: Usually, I go to the bars. Like once or twice a month. Not that much, because I live so far away from the downtown.

FP: It is a bit of a hike. So, do you use Athens Transit a lot or just the UGA busses?
DG: I’ve used the Athens Transit to go to the hospital or Walmart, for example. But usually I use just the Family Housing bus.

FP: What made you decide to come to this university?
DG: While I was studying English in Texas, I had to apply to different universities. I got admission into Iowa State University, Texas A&M and the University of Georgia. So, I just checked the College of Education, and the one that was the best among the three was this one.

FP: Did you know anything about any of the places? Were you hoping to go somewhere in particular?
DG: Nothing, nothing, nothing. No, nothing about how the system works here. That was really complicated. Being honest. I just went to the Internet and just picked universities that had my program. I didn’t have much information about it. [I picked the schools] almost randomly. Almost randomly.

FP: Are you happy with your decision to come here?
DG: Yeah I’m happy. I’m a lucky guy, being here at this university. I think this is a good university. And the whole experience to be here, out of my country…

FP: What is the major difference between Santiago and Athens that you’ve noticed? About the city or maybe about the people?
DG: Hmm. The major difference. I don’t know what to say, because everything is different. I mean, from the very beginning when I walked in the city and somebody said “Hi,” just because that person saw me. To me it’s weird because in big cities you don’t say “Hi” to anyone [you don’t know]. I told you about the public transportation. The other thing, at night, this town is really, what can I say… at night it’s really dark because there isn’t a public light system… I don’t know what to say there…

FP: Very few streetlights.
DG: Yeah, yeah. And the people are just all so different here.

FP: When you first came to Athens, did you feel like the people were welcoming?
DG: Yeah, very polite.

FP: Being less comfortable with English than you are now, when you first got here, did people help you out with the language? Were they nice about it?
DG: Usually American people are really polite. To the point where it’s useless for you because they don’t correct you in any way. That is useless. I need to learn how to… but I understand that you guys don’t want to be, or sound, impolite. So, yeah, they were polite, but it didn’t help me much. Conversation becomes weird. I don’t know how to explain it. So, people decide not to talk to you, or you decide not to talk to people, because the conversation is weird. And we human beings need the language.

FP: After you graduate, what will you do?
DG: I’m going to go back to my country. I am planning to become a researcher in my field. I am probably going to teach college. I don’t think I’m going to go back to teaching high school.