Salome Ramirez sits among her cohort of fellow students, exchanging introductions, laughter and stories about their first few weeks in the city, effortlessly switching between English and Spanish.
Ramirez and her friends were at the Puerto Rican Student Mixer on Wednesday, an event held by the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs for visiting Puerto Rican students who have recently arrived at NYU as part of the Hurricane Maria Assistance Program. The program provided full scholarships for students at accredited Puerto Rican universities to attend NYU during the Spring 2018 semester. Although students still had to pay tuition to their Puerto Rican universities.
“It’s like a whole new world,” Ramirez said. “If you would’ve asked me four months ago if I thought I was going to be in New York, or NYU, I would say that’s impossible, that can’t be, but now making this change, it feels like we can take our minds out of the disaster.”
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. Four months later, the island is still grappling with the destruction made in the wake of the category five hurricane, with many homes still lacking electricity and access to necessities like running water.
She said that her refrigerator stopped working, trees fell in her backyard, water came into the house and ruined furniture, among other things. Ramirez said that her family and her home situation were OK in comparison to that of other people’s.
“Water was coming from the walls,” she said. “It was crazy, it was like a fountain of water was coming out of the plugs.”
Ramirez attended the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan where she studied Journalism. She said that her schooling was disrupted as a result of the hurricanes.
“The air conditioning fell, trees fell, the roof of the basketball court, it fell too,” Ramirez said. “So we spent the last months of school [taking] classes in tents because there was no electricity in the university.”
Graduating from high school at 15 in Colombia, Ramirez set her sights on a United States-affiliated school after taking a gap year. Her entire family only speaks Spanish, so she would go to an English academy after normal school hours to learn and perfect her English.
“I’m the [social media editor] of a journalist group of an association, the press of the university.” Ramirez said. “I work for the university’s TV station. I was the host of a local morning show.”
Ramirez is continuing her journalistic studies at NYU, while also minoring in Psychology. During her first two weeks in New York City, Ramirez enjoyed visiting the Museum of Modern Art, the Rockefeller Center and Radio City. She is especially fond of Queens.
“A lot of Colombians are there, wherever you look there is a bakery or restaurant,” she said. “It’s like little Colombia. You go in there, you know you are going to find something Colombian. So it is really comforting knowing at any time I could just grab … some Colombian dish.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 5 print edition. Email Jendayi Omowale at [email protected].