Student Spotlight: Luis Mejia Ricart Caba

The Department of Computer Science is excited to welcome Luis Mejia Ricart Caba, one of two international students enrolled in the Spring 2017 semester for the Master of Science in Computer and Information Sciences degree program.  A joint program with the Citadel, international students comprise approximately 30% of the student body.  Luis, a software engineer from the Dominican Republic, quickly immersed himself in Charleston’s thriving tech scene by participating and networking at Charleston Startup Weekend.

Why did you select UCSC- College of Charleston?

To be honest, I was hesitant to come here at first because I’d never been South Carolina before so I didn’t know what to expect from Charleston. Being a foreigner, I mostly only ever heard about the noisier states like New York and California, so I did what every other Millennial would have done in my place and started digging online about Charleston, the CofC, and their graduate program. I learned that Charleston has a thriving tech industry, which goes perfectly in line with my particular career path. I also attended a live-stream presentation for the particular graduate program I am in, which resulted in motivation for me to contact the program director and talk to him. Eventually he put me in contact with another professor whom I had a conference call with about all the research she was doing and the possibility of me assisting her with some of it. As it turned out, the more I learned about Charleston and my particular program, the more I fell in love with the idea of coming here.

How would you describe the campus culture?

One of the first things you notice is how the campus has no fences, walls, or borders, so that you could be walking around downtown and suddenly you’re on campus. I think it translates to how open and welcoming this community is. When I first got here, the folks at the CofC Center for International Education (CIE) picked me up at the airport and drove me to my apartment so that I could settle in. Unfortunately, my flight had been delayed so I arrived really late at night, which means that sadly they had to wait much longer than anticipated, but they were there to receive me when my plane finally landed. They handed me a map of the area and some pamphlets with every bus route that I needed to know. I think it was a very nice gesture which really shows you just how welcoming the people here can be to us foreigners.

As an international student, what is it like to live in Charleston?

I come from a fast-paced city life, so coming here was a big change for me since I had to turn it down a notch. However, it’s been very easy to adjust here. I think Charleston is very friendly and easygoing. I have only ever had good experiences since I got here. It isn’t very noisy, so you can focus on the things that you need to do, but it’s not all about work. There’s also plenty of fun things to do on your free time. You’ve got the beautiful parks and museums. You can find a very diverse selection of restaurants and of course there’s also an active nightlife with clubs, bars, and theaters. And you can find all of these around campus, because the campus is in the downtown area.

And the weather. I love this weather. The air is so clean and fresh; the temperature’s neither too hot nor too cold. I don’t own a car but I can see that the traffic here’s not stressing like big city traffic. Not having a car and living off campus hasn’t been a problem for me either since we have a nice and functional transportation system which is free for all CofC students, and the buses are really easy to catch because they’re everywhere.

The people here are so nice and respectful it almost feels surreal. As I said I’ve had no bad experiences here yet and have absolutely no regrets about coming here. If I had to go back in time, I’d pick Charleston and the CofC all over again.

Describe the graduate classroom experience and the structure of the CS graduate classes and your engagement with graduate faculty members

Research is very important here. They try to include research in every class, which I think is a great thing for us students to grow both academically and professionally. So if you do come here, expect to conduct research or study other people’s research in every class.

Classes can also be very interactive, so you won’t just sit there and listen to a lecture all the time. At any given time, the professor might step down and sit among the rest of the students and let someone else step forward and try to explain, to the best of their knowledge, a given topic. Everyone in the classroom is encouraged to ask questions and share their ideas with the rest of the class, so whenever we land on some gray areas we get to hear different opinions on the topic. And that’s a crucial part of the learning process because it helps further develop your critical thinking.

What advice would you give a prospective international graduate student?

Well, I’d say that the first thing that you should to do is get in contact with the CofC Center for International Education (CIE) right away. They’re diligent and will assist you in everything. They’ll answer any question that you may have regarding Charleston, the school, immigration, and pretty much anything else you need to know. They’ve been there for me from the moment I submitted my application.

For all of you prospective students who are still hesitating just like I was, I can assure you that Charleston is a beautiful place and the CofC is fantastic so you won’t be disappointed.