Shelter from the storm: Following up on the guest Puerto Rican students at Tulane

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Courtesy of Pura Morales

A little over a year ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving many neighborhoods, schools and homes in shambles. Due to the devastation, 17 students traveled from the islands of Puerto Rico and Saint Martin to Tulane.

As part of the Spring Guest Semester Program, these guest students studied at Tulane for the 2018 spring semester free of tuition. Looking back a year later, the students share how their time at Tulane impacted their lives.

“I would always remember my time at Tulane,” sophomore Pura Morales said. “Since the beginning, everyone was so welcoming to all the Spring Guest Semester Program students. I made new friends, and gained a lot of new experiences that I’m sure contributed in my development as a young adult.”

Morales is currently a sophomore at the University of

Courtesy of Juan Suárez

Puerto Rico in the Mayagüez campus, working on a bachelor’s degree in biology on a pre-med track.

Along with many other Puerto Rican students affected by Hurricane Maria, Morales spent six months without potable water and power. Additionally, Morales had no access to telephone or internet for about a month. When she finally gained internet access, she seized the opportunity of applying to Tulane’s Spring Guest Semester Program.

“I gained a lot of new experiences, like living alone. Also, I would always remember the friends that I made — I miss them all — and all the good times that we had together,” Morales said.

Courtesy of Valeria C. Toro Díaz

Valeria C. Toro Díaz, a current junior from San German, Puerto Rico, described how she transitioned to living alone in a new country.

“The first months it was hard to get used to it, but Tulane made me feel right at home,” Díaz said. “I got to experience the city and its culture and it had always been a dream of mine to go to New Orleans. So, having the opportunity to not only go but study there was amazing. I met the most wonderful people and I am eternally grateful towards the administration for a beautiful opportunity that I wouldn’t have gotten if they hadn’t opened their doors to us.”

In addition, Juan Suárez, a current junior studying molecular biology, commented on the differences he noticed between the administration of the University of Puerto Rico and Tulane.

“In Tulane, if you had a problem, you easily had 10 offices you could call who would be happy to help,” Suárez said. “Over in the UPR, they would transfer you to another office and another office and so on.”

After their time at Tulane, Morales, Díaz and Suárez returned home to Puerto Rico. Suárez’s time at Tulane, however, impacted him so much that he has applied for a transfer for the spring 2019 semester.

“My family and friends received me with open arms back,” Morales said. “I’m really grateful about this opportunity and I invite you all to visit my beloved island anytime, so you guys can get something of what I received in New Orleans.”

During their time here, the guest students discovered many similarities between New Orleans and Puerto Rico. From joining the Tulane marching band to attending Jazz Fest, they found that both cities burst with spirit and strength, even when disaster strikes.

“I would never forget the week of Mardi Gras and how similar and welcoming is the people of New Orleans compared with the people of Puerto Rico,” Morales said.

Díaz added that one of her favorite memories from her time at Tulane was throwing Mardi Gras beads in the famous tree on the Academic Quadrangle.

Now, one year later, Díaz’s necklace still hangs from the Bead Tree, as a reminder of the memories these 17 students made.

Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Mr. Jeff Schiffman, aptly summarized the program in a recent blog post: “Truly, they were some of the most resilient, compassionate, thoughtful and endearing students that we have ever had at Tulane. Their impact on our campus will be felt for years to come.”