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Jan. 7, 2015

Jose Zamora-Sifuentes: At home in East Lansing

Jan. 7, 2015

Jose Zamora-Sifuentes is in his second year in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and is president of the Class of 2017.

“On the banks of the Red Cedar, there’s a school that’s known to all...” even to high school seniors in Mexico City. How I ended up at MSU is another story, but I have to admit that I was skeptical at first.

While getting ready to head to the United States, I kept hearing that college would be an experience that would change my life. I kept hearing that college allows you to grow up and figure out who you are as a person. What I did not hear about was this ‘Spartan pride’ I was about to become affiliated with. I eventually found my Spartan pride, but more important was the pride I found in myself.

I grew up in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, a place where the streets are crowded with people. In the weeks leading up to my departure for MSU, I started getting nervous. What if my English wasn’t good enough? What if I didn’t make friends? I did not know a single thing about the state of Michigan, let alone this East Lansing place.

All I knew were some random facts I had gotten on Google. Michigan’s state bird: robin. Michigan’s largest lake: Lake Superior. Michigan’s largest university: MSU. While I’m sure other students were intimidated by the large enrollment at MSU, I was comforted by it. Going to MSU would be just like Mexico City—big and crowded. This college transition thing was going to be a piece of cake. Plus, I figured I could handle the snow. Needless to say, the winter of 2009 will forever be the coldest winter of my life.

Imagine my surprise as we passed farmland on my ride from the airport to campus. “We’re getting close to East Lansing,” I thought, “Where are the skyscrapers? Isn’t this supposed to be the largest university in Michigan?” I knew MSU was originally an agricultural college, but I also knew it was huge. I did not expect to see farmland right outside of it, much less grass and open spaces within it.

When I arrived in front of Holmes Hall, the home of Lyman Briggs College, my nervousness started creeping back, I was about to meet my roommate and surely embarrass myself with my accent. But everyone I met was unbelievably kind. This place was going to be all right. Having survived my first day as a Spartan, I felt accomplished. I had already learned a lot. For instance, it is not a U.S. custom to kiss a girl on the cheek upon first meeting her. I also learned the famous “Go Green, Go White!” cheer. I was slowly becoming a Spartan.

I came to MSU as a pre-medical student, ready to learn about biology, biochemistry and physiology. I loved the things I was learning about, but the topics were difficult at times, especially when there were still English words I had never encountered being used regularly. I now look back and wonder how words like “iron” or “avocado” gave me so much trouble.

It was at these times that I felt lucky to be part of Lyman Briggs College, a college that encouraged a sense of community within its walls and inspired students to give back to that community. I had never been driven to give back before, but now I could not think of anything better to do. I started volunteering at the Refugee Development Center, teaching English of all things. To this day, extending a helping hand to people who needed it is one of my most cherished experiences. In my mind, volunteering pushed me further into my pursuit of a medical career than any class could have.

During my senior year of undergrad, I was accepted into the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. I remember the day perfectly. I had just gotten out of my physical chemistry class when I received my acceptance letter by email. I was ecstatic. I didn’t know what to do. I was accepted into medical school as an international student! Part of me wanted to call my family and share this moment with them. Another part of me just wanted to celebrate with some Dairy Store ice cream. I had done it. I had accomplished my dream of going to medical school.

Coming to MSU was a slow transition. I bought green and white apparel. I watched football games. I took classes. I embraced the crazy Michigan weather. I volunteered. I took exams—too many of them. I explored the city and started to call East Lansing home. I completely abolished my nervousness and started believing in myself. I became a Spartan.

Now at MSUCOM and still in East Lansing, I am happy to be able to walk the roads that I once was scared to walk my freshman year. I may not always live in East Lansing, but I look forward to new roads to walk and many more years in “the mitten”.


Reprinted from Communique, the magazine from the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine