Coming from Brazil, Laura de Matos Leal ’25 always wanted to study abroad in the United States. After her mentor in high school introduced her to a Gettysburg alumnus, she put the College on her short list.
After arriving on our picturesque campus, Leal was pleasantly surprised by the tight-knit community she found here and the close partnerships that Gettysburg students develop with their faculty. “I always thought that I would never get to know my professors and classmates,” Leal explained. “Instead, students develop really close relationships to their professors, and their professors know them by name rather than as a number.”
In particular, Leal fostered a close personal relationship with Prof. Kathleen Cain, her First-Year Advisor. “Even now that I’ve declared my major and she’s no longer my advisor, she’s someone that I know I can count on and talk to throughout my four years here.”
“I feel like that goes back to what Gettysburg does really well—providing a safe and supportive community for students here on campus,” said the economics and political science major. “Prof. Cain just really showed me that from the first week of classes.”
Prof. Cain helped Leal a lot in her first year, especially with her final project presented for CAFÉ Symposium for the First-Year Seminar, Crossing Borders: Immigration, Identity, and Development. It explained the struggle of Brazilian immigrants with belonging and self-identification in the United States. “In Brazil, I’m considered white, but in the U.S., I’m considered a person of color. Brazilians don’t really refer to themselves as being Latinos, since we speak Portuguese instead of Spanish,” she said.
Leal used her own personal experience as fuel for her research. When she first arrived at Gettysburg, Leal witnessed the demographics of the campus and felt she could help the College to take steps toward diversifying its community.
“I feel like that made me want to make a change and leave a legacy behind in a way,” Leal said.
To that end, Leal has worked as an International Student Ambassador for the Office of Admissions, where she and other international students held information sessions for prospective students from around the world. Since international students often cannot visit campus before enrolling, Leal took great care to show the abundance of College resources available for them.
“With the work that we did last year, we welcomed the largest class of international students in Gettysburg College history,” Leal said. “It was very exciting. I definitely see that we have made some big strides in promoting diversity on campus.”
Leal has experienced the impact of her work firsthand as a Residential Assistant in Stine Hall, one of the College’s first-year residence halls. On her floor alone, there are 11 international students, four of whom are Latin American. In total, Gettysburg College welcomed 85 international students in its first-year class this fall semester.
Gettysburg’s admissions staff has also made concerted efforts to increase their international reach, Leal explained. Her supervisor, International Student Admissions Coordinator Danielle Wolfberg, traveled to Brazil last year for the first time to host in-person information sessions on behalf of the College. “Since they would mostly travel to Southeast Asia previously, it’s very exciting to know that they are starting to explore Latin America more,” Leal said.
“I feel like throughout my four years here, I definitely set this goal for myself to leave campus when I graduate differently from what I encountered.”
By Katie Lauriello ’25
Photos courtesy of Laura de Matos Leal