Losing my sister during my junior year of high school definitely put a damper on the experience. There I was, navigating life in a foreign country, in a brand new high school with a newly shattered family. While I did try for tragedy not to define who I was, seeing my parents (particularly my mom) go through such a terrible loss was definitely a challenge. I felt lost in high school; while other kids were starting to shop around for colleges, write exceptional essays and plan out their potential careers, I was trying to figure out how I was going to move forward with a broken heart and an uncertain legal status. I was a good student, a great one actually; grades were never an issue for me but I definitely did not find the support and guidance I needed to catapult me into a stellar college experience. My parents had no clue about what was required and they weren’t involved in the process; on top of that, my sister dying showed us that our immigration challenges were just starting, and having a non-resident visa not only meant that I wouldn’t be eligible for any scholarships I’d earned but also that my parents would have to pay top dollar at any college.
|My high school graduation|
And that’s exactly what happened, my grades afforded me any scholarship a highschooler could dream of (I was at the top 5% of my class, out of 1200+ students) but I could not take any of them because I was, well, a foreigner; one that didn’t qualify for the “perks” America had to offer, the very things my parents had moved here for, but such was life and we couldn't dwell on it. I ended up attending FIU and finished my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2.5 years; I will be forever grateful for the financial sacrifices my parents made so I could graduate college. They paid upwards of $7K per semester and I can only hope I made them a little proud with my efforts because I know how difficult it was for them at the time.
Even though my college experience wasn’t what I once envisioned (I was a commuter student, never attended football games, or college parties, didn’t join a sorority, didn’t have a college sweetheart, and had very few friends) it was the experience I got and for that I am grateful. Would I have moved away from home had my situation been different? Would I have left Florida to settle elsewhere? Would I have chosen FIU had that not only been one of my few choices? I honestly don’t know but at the time I was happy to play the cards I had been dealt and I decided to make the best of it and I got a degree out of it, so it was definitely a win!
I learned a lot in my college years. I learned that dreams can change and our ability to adjust and make lemonade out of life’s lemons only improves if we really want. I learned that nobody could live life for me and even though settling might seem easier at times, sometimes the road less traveled is the one that brings the most happiness. My parents' dedication to us was once again proven and their resilience is truly admirable; their example is one of the best lessons life has given me.
I realize as I write, that this particular part of the story may sound a bit gloomy, but college was a really good time in my life; even though there was a lot to be sad about, I loved every minute of it. I grew so much as a person, I learned empathy, I made friends, I learned balance and prioritizing. It was during college that I had my first real relationship, my first conversations about conviction and so much more. And many people may argue that’s exactly what college is for but in my case, it was special because it was the time I came out of my shell and realized that I was here to stay, that the United States was my new home for real and it was time to love it as my own because it would be here that I would likely grow a family and pursue my dreams with them….and that I did!
(To be continued)