Meet One Downtown RA: ‘I Know What It’s Like to Make New Friends’

When Valencia College students begin moving into the dorm rooms at UnionWest at Creative Village, the new high-rise dormitory at the UCF-Valencia College Downtown Campus, Jeancarlo Leon may be one of the first faces they see.

And he’s eager to help them feel at home.

“I know what it’s like to miss your family and friends. I know what it is like to make new friends,” says Leon, a Valencia College engineering student who was one of the first resident assistants chosen for UnionWest.

He speaks from experience. At 19 years old, Jeancarlo Leon was studying engineering in Venezuela when his whole world changed.

His parents, like so many Venezuelans, decided to flee the country, after witnessing the economic and social spiral that had transformed what was once one of the wealthiest countries in South America to a country suffering from extreme deprivation.

The family moved to Miami to begin a new life, but Leon also faced another big decision. In the United States, he would have to start his college education over, learning English and beginning classes as a freshman. So he did his homework. Looking at engineering firms in Florida, he sensed the epicenter of engineering work was in Orlando.

“When you look at engineering internships in Florida, you see that a bunch of the big players are in Orlando: Lockheed Martin, NASA, Siemens,” says Leon,  who wants to become an industrial engineer.

With that in mind, he left his parents’ home in Miami and moved to Orlando to begin taking classes at Valencia College. Today Leon, who’s 22, takes classes on East and West campuses and lives in an apartment near East Campus. who is active in Valencia clubs, including the Florida Engineering Society and Phi Beta Lambda, the future business leaders club on campus.

A rendering of a student housing room at UnionWest at Creative Village.

However, when he learned that the college would be opening a campus downtown, Leon not only signed up for the dorms, but applied to become a resident assistant.

Because of his experiences – and because he’s a few years older than most of the students he may encounter in the UnionWest housing complex at the downtown campus – Leon believes he has a lot to offer them.

Not only did he have to make new friends and master a new language, he left his homeland.

“The things that I went through have given me a lot of strength,” he says. “Coming to a country with a different language and different culture was a great opportunity to find the strength and meet the challenges of life. Going through that experience and making friends here, embracing the culture here, gives me some wisdom to give to younger students,” he says.


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