Home Away From Home: An International Student Guide to San Antonio

University of Texas at San Antonio
advice for students
culture shock
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By Matt Killorin
Published on March 20, 2024

International students will find a diverse city with lots of opportunity just steps from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) campuses.

University of Texas at San Antonio

A bottom-lit riverboat passes restaurants with outdoor patios in early evening along the San Antonio River Walk.

San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, with 1.4 million people and the vibrancy and diversity of a major metropolitan area, but don’t be deceived by its size. The friendly people and welcoming atmosphere give the Alamo City its charm and make it a comfortable place for international students to study abroad.

Coupled with a rich multicultural history and great career opportunities, San Antonio offers international students a well-rounded college and graduate school experience unique to the United States.

Let’s take a closer look at the history, neighborhoods, and cultural touchpoints that make San Antonio a special place to live. We’ll also look at the services available to international students at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), a Carnegie R1 research institution and #1 best value among Texas public universities by Wall Street Journal/College Pulse.

San Antonio: 14,000 Years of History

The San Antonio area was known as the “Land of the Spirit Waters” to the Payaya tribe — part of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation of indigenous people who lived in the region now part of Northern Mexico and South Texas. The headwaters of the San Antonio River were an important settlement area for the Coahuiltecan — who, after 14,000 years of continuous habitation, were recently recognized by the city as the first tribal family by proclamation.

Today, San Antonio is the second-largest city in Texas. It’s also the largest city in the United States with a majority of Hispanic and Latino residents — 64%, according to the 2020 US Census. San Antonio has a rich history of many cultures, including people from African, Latino, European, and Native American nations.

If you’re headed to San Antonio to study at The University of Texas at San Antonio, the school has a strong record of support for international students, especially Hispanic students. A federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), the university is also recognized as one of only 10 schools with a Tier 1 designation and the Seal of Excelencia from Excelencia in Education for its dedication to the academic success of Latino students.

From the Missions to a Multicultural History

San Antonio was founded in 1718 and is the oldest municipality in Texas, beginning life as a Mission settlement in the Spanish colonial empire. In 1821, San Antonio became part of Mexico and remained so until the spring of 1836, when Texans fought for independence at the Battle of the Alamo. Less than a decade later, Texas was annexed by the United States, and San Antonio became a US city and home to a wave of new immigrants.

Today, you can visit the San Antonio Missions, a group of five frontier outposts built on the city’s south side during the Spanish Crown’s 18th-century colonization efforts. The significant architectural and archaeological sites are a major draw for tourists and history buffs. Locals enjoy the lovely parks and natural areas that extend from downtown to south San Antonio, offering hiking and biking trails along the way.

Alamo Heights

Alamo Heights is a separate city contained within San Antonio. It is a popular area for young professionals to live and visit, with international foods, charming historical neighborhoods, and many things to do.

Students like the diversity of restaurants along the Broadway thoroughfare, offering classic Cantina Mexican, authentic Thai, and modern sushi options among many other specialties. There are also several points of cultural interest in the area, from the McNay Art Museum — the first modern art museum in Texas — to the 343-acre Brackenridge Park, which includes a zoo, a Japanese tea garden, and even a mini railroad.

Downtown San Antonio

Sure, the downtown area has major tourist attractions like narrated boat rides along the original stretch of the River Walk and numerous shops, restaurants, and hotels, but let’s focus on its career opportunities.

The Alamo City is considered a southern business hub. It is home to several Fortune 500 companies, including Valero Energy and Tesoro, and hosts hundreds of business conventions annually in various sectors.

San Antonio connects to Austin, Dallas–Ft. Worth, and Houston along three interstate highways to create the Texas Triangle, one of 11 megaregions in the US. The Texas Triangle includes 14 billion people and a $1.8 trillion economy. Students living within the Texas Triangle have access to a rich market of internships, mentorships, and career growth opportunities within almost every sector, from tech to health care to tourism.

Just West of Downtown: La Zona Cultural

A compact area near downtown, La Zona Cultural is an excellent area for student-friendly events all year round, from kayaking through San Antonio to live music performances in public spaces. La Zona is also a required stop for lovers of public art and hyper-local community-based offerings, from food to artwork. Many public spaces are dedicated to local artists and innovators, many of whom represent the Latino and Hispanic communities.

Monte Vista

Uptown Central San Antonio comprises Monte Vista, Alta Vista, and Olmos Park. The Monte Vista area is known for palatial Gilded Age estates as well as several interesting boutiques and upscale restaurants, including Mixtli, whose innovative dishes locals say are shaping the future of Mexican dining.

In addition to their Mexican restaurants, residents are proud of their homes’ architectural significance. Many houses in the area were built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and represent Georgian, Moorish, Antebellum, Victorian, Queen Anne, Spanish, and Hollywood Bungalow building styles. Monte Vista calls itself the largest historical district in America (although other cities claim this as well). No matter — you’ll still find plenty of history up close here, as local groups offer tours and host events throughout the year.

Eastside

Historically, Eastside San Antonio was home to the Black and African-American residents of the city as part of a policy of racial segregation. Those policies have since changed, and many of San Antonio’s historically Black neighborhoods have forged strong communities, rich in African-American history and showcases for Black-owned businesses.

Eastside, nicknamed the Soul of San Antonio, features excellent food, entertainment, and cultural options distinct from other parts of the city. St. Paul Square, an African-American neighborhood anchored by the historically significant Methodist Church, has become a food and nightlife destination, with trendy new apartments available.

There are also plenty of student-friendly entertainment options on the east side, from tickets to San Antonio Spurs games, starting at less than $20, to concerts by national touring acts at the Alamodome on the city’s southeast side.

Lavaca

Lavaca is the oldest neighborhood in San Antonio and features many 19th-century homes built by the local artisans who originally lived there. Today, Lavaca is a laid-back community with innovative restaurants and shops in one area and chickens and cats welcomed to roam in others. Lavaca residents can enjoy a quiet stretch of the River Walk, unlike the tourist-centric downtown leg of the 15-mile trail traversing the city along the San Antonio River.

King William/Southtown

San Antonio’s King William area was named in honor of King Wilhelm I of Prussia, about midway through the 19th century, when waves of German immigrants began to settle in San Antonio. Today, the King William/Southtown areas, once referred to as “Sauerkraut Bend,” are home to many eccentric pockets of art boutiques, coffeehouses, and one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. Southtown hosts a First Friday Artwalk and other events that cross over into King William, Lavaca, and similar areas on the south side of San Antonio.

Pearl District

Pearl District, San Antonio, was named after the Pearl Brewing Company, where beer was originally made and shipped out of a brewery area just north of downtown. The Pearl Beer brand lives on, but the centrally located brewery closed in 2001. The old brewery grounds and surrounding neighborhood have since been turned into a hip area to shop, eat, and have fun.

Pearl District is also located along the River Walk Museum Reach segment, featuring several public art exhibits, galleries, and museums, including the San Antonio Museum of Art, known for their Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin American collections. Admission to many of the city’s museums, including the San Antonio Museum of Art, is free to The University of Texas at San Antonio students.

Studying Internationally at The University of Texas at San Antonio

The UTSA student body is 43% first-generation students - meaning that they are the first person in their family to attend a US university or college. As such, many domestic students at UTSA are also getting familiar with campus life, academics, and more, with many parallels to the international student journey. No matter your background, UTSA creates a welcoming environment to make sure every student feels supported and nurtured, so they can pursue their goals with confidence.

Accessibility and affordability are major perks here, too: UTSA has the second-lowest tuition in The University of Texas system, and the Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranks the school the #1 best value among Texas public universities. International students typically live in neighborhoods located close to campus that offer affordable rental options for students from all over the world.

UTSA’s Global Initiatives office provides English-language and academic planning support, from help in choosing a major to finding and landing an internship. In the classroom, students can always meet their teachers and professors for specific course-related questions and critical academic advice. Students will find dedicated UTSA professionals who can help them find community in their new home. When trying to make sense of a cultural difference or looking for easy access to nearby grocery stores with familiar treats, resources abound. Finding fun events throughout San Antonio will be easy because the opportunities in this dynamic city are so plentiful, throughout the year.

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