Ana Lima left her home country of Brazil nine years ago to attend Washburn University.

She graduates in May with her master's degree in clinical psychology. But even all these years later, she remembers clearly what the first months in a new country are like.

"Everything is just so much. You can't keep up with the information," she said. "Most students have never even left their home country before. So new country, new language, new culture. Everything is so much. It's like everything is hyperstimulating, that's the sensation you get."

Today, as one of seven jobs that she works on the Washburn campus, Lima is a presidential ambassador for international students. As someone who had lived in two countries and spoken three languages before coming to the U.S., her personal experience wasn't as difficult as some of those she has met. But it is always an adjustment.

Take a syllabus, for instance. Lima had no idea what it was, and she has found that to be true of many international students she helps.

"I honestly didn't know there was a syllabus until I was like two-and-a-half months, three months in. Don't get me wrong, they said the word 'syllabus' many times," she said. "The thing is that it's so much that when I was in class and the professor said something like syllabus, I had no idea what was happening. The word didn't register. It was so unfamiliar that it just goes over your head."

Lima can tick off a nearly endless list of what international students struggle with, including everything from email etiquette to dining differences to not having a car or being able to work off campus.

She can laugh about it now, though, and Lima works hard with other international students to make their transitions as easy as possible.

Academic expectations was perhaps the area in which it was most difficult for Lima to adjust, she said. Everything was different from Brazil and from Paraguay, where she lived for some time. It was often the simple things.

"You have orientation on what classes to choose, and you don't even know what a credit hour is because that's not the system that they use," Lima said.

But the experience is worth that period of "making oh so many mistakes," she added.

Camille Knoepffler is an international student at Wichita State University, where she studies dance. In her home country of Guatemala, dance wouldn't have been a career option.

"It was always my dream to study abroad. I honestly didn’t see myself studying, like, psychology or architecture. I always wanted to pursue my dance career," she said.

Dance is slowly starting to become a professional option in Guatemala, but it primarily is considered a hobby, as are many of the arts, Knoepffler said.

She has enjoyed the opportunity to be stimulated by a different culture and different ideas. 

But her first months here weren't a tremendous culture shock, she said.

"A lot of the terms are different. Like, for example, we don’t (say) college of fine arts or college of engineering," Knoeppfler said. "We don’t call it like that in Spanish. But it clicked right away."

Though here now for years, both women remember clearly the process of getting their student visas and preparing to come to the U.S.

It was critical, Lima said, to ensure paperwork was in perfect order. The process at first felt overwhelming.

Important first is choosing a university and being accepted. The university will look at financial statements for proof that you can pay for tuition and living experiences, she said, and that also means that sponsors in your home country will have enough to live on, too. Once that is determined, an I-20 is issued.

That Form I-20 — a Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Student Status — is important, Lima said.

"That is your ticket to everything," she said. "You need it for pretty much everything. You leave the country, you come in, you have to have it at all times."

After that is attained, the process of applying for a student visa — typically the F-1 visa — begins. That includes paying $200 for the SEVIS, or I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, fee. Lima said that was only a challenge because students are required to have an international credit card, which could be a big deal in Brazil.

Applying for the actual visa requires filling out pages of paperwork, and here, Lima and Knoepffler said, it is important to be detailed and accurate.

"The smallest mistake sets you back incredibly far, to the point of even getting your visa denied," Lima said. "Honestly, every step you take you have to be extremely careful."

Knoepffler said that when she started the process, she signed up online with an organization that was supposed to help her through it. But the company disappeared halfway through, and she had to cancel the payment that she had made with her credit card.

The final step is the visa interview, where you stand in line at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, turn in your paperwork and have an in-person interview.

Vince Altum, executive director of the office of international education at Wichita State University, said he was once allowed to witness a visa interview.

"The students are very, very nervous," he said. "It's kind of like going to a large bank in the U.S. You stand in line for your interview and you slide your passport under a little crack under a bank window. Most interviews are like three minutes long."

Those quick interviews, which Lima said can last as long as 10 minutes and vary considerably from embassy to embassy, can support or end a student's dream to study in the U.S.

Lima called it one of the most intimidating experiences in her life.

"The line is super long. Everyone is behind the glass — and they're mostly all Americans, so I could hear them speak Portuguese with this very thick accent, and they're very serious and very intimidating," she said.

It is extremely important that the interviewers understand that students intend to return to their home countries, Lima said. Students can show their ties to their home country through owning vehicles, showing a history of working there for a long time or having lots of family members there.

There is an appeal process if a student is rejected, she said. Most rejections come because the student doesn't show they have enough money. Even though they have the I-20, they have to again prove their financial situation at the embassy. Another reason is concern that the student wants to stay in the U.S. That can happen if there are already relatives in the U.S. who have stayed there, through marriage, for example.

All of the nerves and financial commitment, though, were worth it for Lima and Knoepffler. Both said they enjoy the challenge of being confronted with ideas that are different than what they have known.

Lima dived deep into work at the Washburn campus, where she is clinic director at the Washburn Psychological Services Clinic and an intern at counseling services, among other roles. She said she fell in love with Topeka.

"I fell in love with people here. I felt like everyone here has been more of a family than anything," Lima said. "I love the culture. I love the people. I love everything. I love rules and recycling."

She laughed.