Five years ago, and 2,799 miles away from where I am today, I decided to build a better future for myself. I left Venezuela in pursuit of a higher education in the United States.
As a young high school graduate, I was excited but also nervous about my future. The economic and social situation in my country was not stable and an opportunity to travel to the United States had presented itself. When I read about the dietetics career on my new university’s website, I realized that my dreams of helping people through nutrition would finally come true. With the help of my family, I finished all the paperwork.
As an international student, there are restrictions to working off-campus but this did not dissuade me from doing volunteer work and gaining experience working on campus. Fortunately, I had a very special professor who was also an international student in college. He was very supportive of me and could relate to my struggles. I also was very involved with the international student office, which helped me with things like taxes, insurance, driver’s license and general advice.
During my senior year, the pressure of getting into a dietetic internship was stronger than ever. I decided to apply for the pre-select Aramark dietetic internship, which meant I had to have all the paperwork ready by February 1 instead of the usual deadline of April. All of my hard work paid off when I got an email saying I was accepted into the Aramark dietetic internship. I applied to be placed at a hospital in Kentucky.
As an international student I not only had to apply for my internship, I also had to complete the paperwork for my optional practical training. The practical training is a year after graduation, that international students often use to find a job that will later sponsor you with a work visa. I decided to use this year to do my unpaid dietetic internship.
During the summer after graduation I received a call from the internship director saying that due to COVID-19 the hospital in Kentucky was not going to take interns, and that I needed to relocate to Texas to continue the program. Thankfully, I had some family in Houston that took me in and in a short amount of time, I moved my whole life to Texas.
The internship was an amazing experience that took me out of my comfort zone, allowed me to help real patients and learn about leadership. I was lucky enough to have preceptors that were extremely helpful and I can consider mentors. About halfway through the program I contacted the immigration office from the hospital. My boss also helped me by reaching out to other registered dietitian nutritionists in the hospital system, and eventually I got an interview. A few weeks after my interview I received a call from the recruiter telling me that they wanted to offer me a job! I was in complete shock. I could not believe she was saying that to me and I was so happy, especially since going back to my country was very dangerous.
After I finished my internship in May 2021, I started studying for my RDN exam right away and on June 11 I passed. For me, passing the exam was the knot that tied it all together. I am finally and registered dietitian! However, my journey continues as I work on my visa paperwork.
Being an international student gives extra challenges to the process of becoming an RDN and it isn’t very common to see international students following the path of becoming an RDN in the U.S. I share my story because maybe I can help guide other students on what steps to take.
Here are some pieces of advice and encouragement:
- Do not let your status stop you from gaining experience and networking in the field of dietetics.
- Reach out for help and advice. People wants to help you succeed!
- Use your resources. Take advantage of what you have (international office, immigration human resources, student associations, professors, etc.)
- Be prepared. Getting paperwork done ahead is very helpful since a lot of paperwork (e.g. driver license) can take longer for international students.
- Always do your best because people notice!
The team behind Food & Nutrition Magazine® aims to amplify the voices of people of color and other underrepresented individuals in nutrition and dietetics and highlight the experiences of RDNs, NDTRs, dietetic interns and nutrition and dietetics students. Our goal is not only to stand in solidarity, but also help inform our readers and increase awareness about the importance of diversity in the field of nutrition and dietetics. We know it’s not enough, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction that will support meaningful conversations and a positive change in the profession.