Julie-Marie Dalbello looks like a typical American student. She has blonde hair and blue eyes, but looks can be deceiving. Dalbello's southern California girl looks are actually from South America and she has a charming Spanish accent and a fascination for politics.
While Dalbello's family is originally from Brazil, her parents made the move to the U.S. "You can say that they lived out the American dream since they started from nothing but two suit cases in the U.S., but later attained higher education and everything we could ask for," Dalbello said.
When Dalbello was 9 years old, her parents decided to move back to South America. Her parents sought to help out the impoverished areas and improve education system in Argentina. Dalbello grew up watching as her parents selflessly gave back and pushed to make the world a better place. She would quickly develop a passion to serve and help people as well.
Life was difficult in Argentina. The education system was not perfect as the teachers were not paid well and would go on strike for three months out of the year; thus leaving the children unprepared for the next grade. Children would be forced onto the next grade no matter how much or how little they knew according to Dalbello. Due to the Argentine school system, Dalbello's parents enrolled her in a private Christian school that was taught in half Spanish and half English.
When it came time for Dalbello to apply to colleges, there was no doubt she would go to an American school. She heard about Emory University from a friend, but soon thereafter, stumbled upon Oxford College.
The small community appealed to her. She thought it would be a better fit for her as she was from a very tight Brazilian-culture community.
Dalbello, now a sophomore at Oxford College, soon learned her freshman year that the small and warm, close-knit community was perfect for her transition from the South American lifestyle to the American one.
Like all international students, Dalbello had her own view of what the United States would be like.
"I always thought everything was huge. Huge roads, huge cars, huge "small" sized-coke drinks. And clean. Everything is shiny and clean. And that it had good clothes and lots of good food, though wasteful."
While the portion size of food was a culture shock to Dalbello, the biggest shock was the attitudes of Americans.
"I thought people would be a lot colder than they are, but I've learned that they aren't; it's just they aren't as touchy as South Americans," Dalbello said as she compared the personalities of people between the two cultures.
She, like many other international students, thought Americans were selfish, cold, and always focused on the next big thing, but the Southern charm soon worked its charm on her.
"Everyone is really nice. I realized Americans are some of the most helpful people in the world. It surprised me that I like it here now. I was really hesitant to leave Argentina and move here, but now I have tons of friends and I grown to love the culture."
However, experiencing the American culture came at a price for the Dalbello family. Dalbello's parents, who are also missionaries, used their savings and took out loans to send their daughter to Oxford. They speculate that it will only get financially worse as her younger sister will soon look to the states for a college education as well.
Although the Dalbello sisters are both choosing to study in the United States, South America will always be home.
"In both Brazil and Argentina, the people are always happy. They are beautiful countries. I miss walking around everywhere and walking a block to buy food. There's a lot of poverty there. Life perhaps is harder, but people seem to be happier."
After Dalbello graduates with a major in international studies, she hopes to work for a non-governmental organization that works to improve education systems.
Currently, Dalbello volunteers frequently at the elementary schools helping the children with their studies and she also serves as a student instructor for the Introduction to Political Science at Oxford. Already Dalbello is out in the world trying to make that positive impact that she learned from her parents.