As an international student, Cheriyan Elanjickal applied to and received acceptance letters from 10 major universities across the United States and Canada. However, Saint Leo University was the most affordable and welcoming. That's why the native of India chose to come to University Campus in January of 2020.

Elanjickal, 30, was born in India. Nicknamed "Cherry" by many of his friends, he spent most of his childhood and early adult years in Qatar. His dad worked at the U.S. embassy there. He says he started learning English in kindergarten and was exposed to some forms of American culture as a young boy.

Ascending to Higher Education

He earned a bachelor's in medical microbiology from Jain University Bangalore in India. He then pursued a master's in medical biotechnology from Manipal University in Dubai.

"When I went to India to study there, I struggled a lot," he admits. "It was hard being away from my parents and living in a hostel. I was very homesick. My parents just told me that this is what life can be like at times and to learn to deal with it. They said I had to learn to live outside of my comfort zone."

His dad told him about how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to persevere and overcome challenges to make a difference in the world.

"I started reading more about Dr. King and was fascinated by his life story. Thanks to that inspiration, I now look at my life as a role model for my own self because of what I've done since then."

Early Experience in a Healthcare Career

At a young age, he told his parents that he wanted to be a doctor or work in healthcare in some capacity. That's exactly what he got to experience while pursuing graduate school. After completing his master's degree, he worked as a microbiology lab assistant.

"I taught clinical students in medical school about the various instruments in the lab and the types of organisms they were studying," he explains.

He then worked as a research assistant in the oncology department of a hospital in Qatar.

"We took cells from cancer patients and tried to identify alternative forms of cancer treatment since chemotherapy has lots of side effects," he says.

His main goal as a healthcare professional is to make a difference in the world.

"I want to save people's lives doing whatever it takes," he says.

A Unique Path to Saint Leo University

While his dad was working at the U.S. embassy in Qatar, Elanjickal connected with someone in the education department there. He then attended an education fair with several American universities. He says there were three main factors in deciding on which college to choose.

"I was looking at the climate of the schools, the quality of the degree programs and faculty they offered and the tuition for the programs I was interested in."

He also researched where some alumni of these colleges were placed in terms of employment after graduating and read the bios of the faculty to better understand their backgrounds.

"Saint Leo was my best choice."

A Warm Introduction to Campus as an International Student

Being an international student, he recalls his journey to the U.S.

"I flew from India to Dubai to New York to Tampa," he says. "There were two ladies from the admissions office who met me at the airport. I was a little nervous about how all of this would go since it was my first time coming to this country on my own. But they were so welcoming to me right when I met them at the airport."

They took him to go shopping at Walmart to buy items for his dorm room. They also showed him around town and talked about places of interest in the area and on campus.

"They made the process so easy for me," he recalls. "I can honestly say that Saint Leo University welcomes their students and treats them as if they are family."

During orientation, he made several friends right away and also remembers his introduction to Paige Ramsey-Hamacher, the executive director of Saint Leo's Center for Global Engagement.

"Paige was so nice because she gave all of us a big hug when we first came to campus."

Selecting the MBA in Healthcare Management Degree Program

Thanks to his experience working in healthcare and true passion for the field, he decided to enroll in the MBA in Healthcare Management program held at University Campus.

"So many people in India hold American university programs in high regard," he says. "I decided to do the MBA in Healthcare Administration program here to gain valuable knowledge and skills that will benefit me in my future professional job."

While he is still early in the program, he has enjoyed his coursework thus far.

"All of my professors have been very supportive," he says.

During his first term at Saint Leo, he made the dean's list.

Benefits of the Bridge Program for International Students

Saint Leo University prides itself on offering a Bridge Program. It is primarily intended for international students who wish to improve their English skills to be more proficient in academic writing for their classes.

According to Elanjickal, this program has been a tremendous help for him. He has thoroughly enjoyed getting to know its director, Dr. Iona Sarieva

"The Bridge Program helped me improve my reading and writing skills. It also gave me a nice introduction to both MLA and APA style guides for academic writing."

In addition, another course also made a positive impact on him when he first arrived at University Campus.

"The course Introduction to American Culture and University Life helped me learn so much about American culture and what it's like attending a university in the U.S," he says.

Dr. Marcela van Olphen, who also teaches Spanish, has been particularly helpful to him.

"She took us to the library on campus and showed us all of the great resources available to us as international students. Coming from Argentina herself, she told us all about how she came to the U.S. She also filled us in on so many important aspects of American culture, everything from the need to have health and car insurance to social norms and how people interact with each other in this country."

He also learned about how to approach professors at an American university.

"They are very approachable here and willing to help. In India, it can be more difficult to easily talk with your professors and ask questions."

He adds that it was quite a transition going from his experience in the Indian education system to how American higher education is presented.

"Where I come from, they teach a lot more theory. Here in the U.S., I think the education programs are designed to teach you more practical skills."

University Campus Involvement

Elanjickal has been very involved in the Intercultural Student Association (ISA) on campus.

"This has been a great opportunity to meet so many different people and share my ideas," he explains. "I am part of the ISA e-board. I am the future initiatives event planner."

He has become good friends with Kylie Hamacher, the president of ISA.

"She is such a great person and a good friend of mine now," he says.

In terms of hobbies, he enjoys traveling and is eager to learn about American history and visit some of the key landmarks around the country. He's also a big fan of The Vampire Diaries and enjoys working out at the gym.

A Refreshing Outlook

Despite some of the challenges he has faced, Elanjickal has a positive outlook and takes new experiences in stride.

"Helen Keller once said, ‘Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.'"

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Cheriyan Elanjickal and is used with permission.

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