Editor’s Note: This story is part of a continuing series about international student life at colleges and universities across the United States. Please join us over the next several weeks as we bring you stories about international students and the American higher education system as a whole.
Dawid Mzyk and Marta Plominska have not always agreed on where their educational or career paths might take them.
Both students are from Poland. Mzyk was born 28 years ago in the city of Jaworzno. Plominska, age 25, was born in Radzionkow.
Both are musicians. Mzyk plays trombone, while Plominska plays another wind instrument: the flute.
The two had been in a relationship for several years when Mzyk earned a master’s degree at the Academy of Music in Kraków. He completed his studies in 2014.
At that time, Plominska still had a few years left in her own master’s degree program at the Academy of Music. But Mzyk could not wait to continue his education. He felt any delay would limit him from pushing his abilities as a musician even further.
About 10 years earlier, Mzyk had visited the United States and enjoyed his time there. So he decided he wanted to attend an American college or university. However, Plominska had no desire to leave Europe.
In the end, Mzyk was admitted to a two-year program at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. He began studying there on his own in 2015.
But Mzyk and Plominska would not let their differences nor the distance end their relationship. In 2016, they decided to eventually get married. And once Plominska earned her master’s degree, she agreed to come to the U.S. and give its higher education system a try.
From her very first day in Georgia, Plominska says there were major difficulties she had to overcome. For example, Kraków has a large public transportation system, which many locals use, while Columbus has only a few buses. Without a car, she and Mzyk found it hard to do what, back in Poland, had been some of the simplest things, such as going to a store to buy food.
But Plominksa says she also noted a major difference in the behavior of Americans compared to the people back home.
"The people in the U.S. … they are really smiling a lot, I think. They smiling on the street when they pass you, and they usually can say, ‘Hi. How are you?’ which will never happen to you in Europe."
Slowly, these and other qualities of life in the U.S. began to make Plominska enjoy herself, she says. Then, enjoying life as an international student became even more important. Both she and Mzyk agreed that they would need to continue their education after completing their studies at Columbus State in 2017.
The two knew that to perfect their musical abilities and find university teaching positions or jobs as performers, they needed to earn doctoral degrees. That is when they learned about the University of Nevada Las Vegas, or UNLV.
UNLV is a public research university that was established in 1957. It serves about 30,400 students. The city of Las Vegas is well-known as a place for people to visit while on vacation, while Nevada is famous for its gaming industry.
Las Vegas has many casinos and large hotels, where some of the most popular entertainers from around the world perform. And there is a saying that expresses the culture of partying there: ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’
Mzyk admits that he had never heard of UNLV before he began considering doctoral degree programs. Yet he says he was pleased to find that many professors teaching at the school came from well-respected universities.
However, Mzyk says he and Plominksa had a difficult start in Nevada, just like they did in Georgia.
"We didn’t have the best start in Las Vegas, because our bikes were stolen after two weeks, I think, when we moved in. And then our neighbors’ … below, they were evicted because of some reasons we don’t know really."
Las Vegas does not have the country’s highest crime rate. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation did report over 4,900 violent crimes there in 2017. And Mzyk and Plominska say they did feel unsafe at times.
Anastasia Motiti shares their concerns. The 23-year-old UNLV student is from Nicosia, the largest city of the island of Cyprus. Growing up, she says, her community was so closely connected that there was little fear of crime. So she felt a little unprepared for what life was like in Las Vegas.
In 2016, Motiti earned a bachelor’s degree at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. Her degree program was in musical performance.
Like Plominska, Motiti plays the flute. She learned about the school through the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s main program for international student exchanges.
Motiti says she liked the American method of higher education, which lets students take classes in both their major and other subjects. So she decided to seek a master’s degree at UNLV immediately after completing her bachelor’s degree.
Once Motiti moved to Las Vegas, she says, it took her time to learn to pay close attention to her surroundings in order to stay safe. But she adds that life as a UNLV student soon made it so that she had little time to go anywhere or doing anything outside of schoolwork.
For music students, earning any sort of master’s or doctoral degree means hours and hours of playing one’s instrument, says Motiti. But more than that, she feels that her studies helped expand her knowledge and skills beyond just playing the flute. Now she has experience writing music and leading other performers.
Motiti recalls that one professor showed her different kinds of music she had never enjoyed before.
"He introduced me to opera, which for me now, is much better than theater, than movies … because it combines everything, literally. … I was blind to it … and then suddenly I come here and this person just shows me how I want to continue."
Dawid Mzyk and Marta Plominska agree that they now spend much of their week on the grounds of UNLV, especially in the music building. They say that, in a way, it is good for their relationship since they are both studying in such an intense program.
Myzk and Plominska hold positions as teaching assistants at UNLV. They agree that teaching makes them look at the music and their own playing in ways they might not have considered a few years ago. And they say this adds to the list of ways the school helps them reach their goal of being the best musicians they can be.
I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Dorothy Gundy.
Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
master’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor's degree
smiling – v. making the corners of your mouth turn up in an expression that shows happiness, amusement, pleasure, or affection
doctoral degree(s) – n. the highest degree that is given by a university
casino(s) – n. a building or room that has games such as roulette or blackjack for the practice of risking money on a bet
bike(s) – n. a two-wheeled vehicle that a person rides by pushing on foot pedals
evict(ed) – v. to force someone to leave the place in which they are living
bachelor’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after four years of study
major – n. the main subject studied by a college or university student
introduce(d) – v. to cause someone to learn about or try something for the first time
opera – n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by a group of musicians who play usually classical music together and who are led by a conductor