Fla. Colleges Take in Students Who Fled From Hurricanes - NBC Connecticut
Puerto Rico Recovers After Maria

Puerto Rico Recovers After Maria

Complete coverage of relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, following Hurricane Maria

Fla. Colleges Take in Students Who Fled From Hurricanes

The colleges know this is an unsettling experience, being displaced from everything the students know, and are trying to smooth out the edges

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    If you're a college student and a hurricane ravages your home, wrecks your school, and tosses your life upside down, what do you do? The answer for students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands may be to come to Florida, where state colleges and universities are setting out the welcome mats for these so-called hurricane refugees.

    So far, 60 have enrolled at FIU, and others are turning up at Miami-Dade College and at Broward College.

    "I'm lucky, I can totally say that I'm lucky because I'm alive," said Sarah Colon, who hails from a town in the center of Puerto Rico and just enrolled at FIU.

    Roland Arroyo is taking classes now at Miami-Dade College's Kendall Campus, while he stays with family in the area.

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    "It's a sad story, it really is a devastating story to hear that my people, my country, are suffering so much," Arroyo said, adding that he feels "completely blessed" just to be in Florida.

    Javier Riefkohl enrolled at Broward College after his uncle arranged for him to escape the chaos and devastation of Puerto Rico.

    "Me, being able to leave so early, I consider myself extremely, extremely blessed," Riefkohl said.

    He says some of his friends are still stuck in Puerto Rico, trying to get out, trying to make it to Florida where they can take advantage of a special deal set up by the state: college students from Puerto Rico and the USVI can now pay in-state tuition at all Florida state colleges and universities.

    FIU even set up a special call center to handle the hundreds of inquiries its getting about the process of transferring from schools in Puerto Rico or the USVI.

    "FIU does well by doing good, it makes all of us at the university so happy that we're able to help these students continue their education," said Jody Glassman, FIU's admissions director.

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    The students are displaced from everything they know. Many have no friends here, the environment is completely different, so it's an unsettling experience. The colleges know this and are trying to smooth out the edges.

    "I can't bring back your house, I can't necessarily do anything about a lot of the things that are impacting them, but I can give them something that will last forever and that's an education," said Dr. Marielena DeSanctis, Broward College's Vice President of Student Services.

    One sentiment these students all seem to share is gratitude, not just that they can continue their educations, but that they made it out of the tragedy enveloping their homeland.

    "I can't really ask for more, I honestly can't, and I wish I could do more for the people back home," Riefkohl said.

    "It really is a blessing for me and for my family, but the most important thing we have to focus on is rebuilding Puerto Rico, I think," said Arroyo.

    The Puerto Rican students are already finding support networks on their campuses, bonding with others who have left everything behind to study here.

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    "There are so many Puerto Ricans here, I have already met like 10 people and I've only been here for a week, and it's so sad because we are all here looking for hope," Colon said.

    They're hoping for recovery back home while following their dreams here in South Florida.