For students who are anxious to attend a campus on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, you are in for a real treat. The Puerto Ricans are very friendly, and the campuses pride themselves in creating a family or community atmosphere. They are also justifiably proud of the beauty of the island and of their campuses.
Puerto Rico is an island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean and on the south by the Caribbean Sea. Approximately 80 percent of the land is mountainous or hilly with the main mountain chain running east and west and clearly dividing south and north regions. The major cities are San Juan, Ponce, Caguas, Mayaguez, and Arecibo. The lower elevations have a tropical climate with an average annual temperature of 82 degrees changing to subtropical at increasingly higher elevations. Both temperature and humidity are affected by the NE trade winds. Most of the rainfall occurs between May and December varying from an annual average of 161 inches in the north to 36 inches in the south. (A map of PR can be seen at the Welcome To Puerto Rico web site.
Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in association with the USA in 1952 electing its own governor and preferring that relationship over becoming a state. With the dollar as its currency, Puerto Rico's major trading partner is the USA. Puerto Rico primary products are copper ore, cotton, fish, fruit, hydroelectricity, limestone, livestock, marble, phosphates, quartz, sugar cane, tobacco, and vegetables. Its major industries are agriculture, bottling, chemicals, clay and glass products, electrical and electronic products, fishing, mining and metal products, distilling, textiles and tourism.
HOW'S YOUR SPANISH?
Your first assignment is to determine if you are ready to have all your classroom instruction in Spanish. While there may be an occasional course taught in English, you need to plan on your professors teaching in Spanish. Puerto Rico is bilingual Spanish/English, but the first language is Spanish. You should, therefore, be conversant in Spanish and ready to be instructed in Spanish for all your courses. You can be expected to be interviewed in Spanish in the NSE application process by a person whose first language is Spanish.
WHICH CAMPUS IS BEST FOR ME?
Your second assignment is to sort out which of the NSE member campuses in Puerto Rico are reasonable choices for you. You will need to look at the college catalogs and web sites to determine, with the help of your academic advisor, which campuses have the selection of courses you need to make progress toward your degree while you are on exchange. After learning which campuses can fill your academic needs, you need to search for which of those will meet your personal interests.
Most campuses in Puerto Rico have no on-campus housing. Since there is local housing near most of the campuses, students can find accommodations within walking distance. Puerto Rico is a relatively small Island, and it is very easy for students who live on those campuses to leave on the weekend and be with their families. There is, therefore, generally less happening on campus on the weekend than there is on an average stateside campus. It is easy to assume that being a tropical island you will be able to spend a lot of time at the beach, but transportation can be restrictive.
As you are looking at the different campus options, the tuition differentials will catch your attention. Those members that are private universities charge a tuition about three times higher than the campuses of the University of Puerto Rico system, but that private tuition is comparable to resident tuition at state-side campuses.
Personal checks drawn on banks outside the island are not cashed. Credit cards and travelers checks are acceptable in most places. Plan on opening a bank account with checking privileges for the period of your exchange.
Approved health insurance is required by all campuses in Puerto Rico. Most campuses will require purchasing their insurance to assure adequate coverage while on exchange. The cost for purchase will vary by campus. You will receive insurance information before arriving and should pay for it before leaving for your exchange.
Occasionally campuses experience tropical storms or even hurricanes in the fall semester. Each NSE campus has established a contingency plan for weather related emergencies. These may include evacuation to a safer shelter. NSE coordinators will help students prepare for such situations as well as doing follow-up during and after the emergency.
Compared to most stateside campuses, there will be more days off for celebrations, weather or strikes in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans celebrate their cultural and religious heritage more extensively than most of us do and do it in festive ways. It is far from festive, but hurricanes are anticipated in the fall and extra time is built into the fall semester so that students are not short-changed in their instruction. Strikes by the university and/or public workers are fairly common. Strikes may sometimes be campus based by faculty or students, but they may also be island-wide support for public employees or in sympathy for a public concern or cause (The latter are unlikely to affect the private institutions).
Puerto Rican campuses have the same basic technology as the stateside campuses. It is not the technology that differs as much as the access. Since several campuses have no on-campus housing, students may need to go to the campus to access computer labs rather than being able to remain in a wired residence hall.