A while back, one of my closest friends Ana sent me an essay she wanted me to take a look at before submitting it as part of her grad school application. She was applying at the SIT Graduate Institute for a Masters in Global Management in Oman. Ana is finishing up her last bit of time in the Peace Corps in Honduras right now. When I looked at her essay responses, I was blown away. The only corrections I could make were minor grammatical details – aside form that, it was flawless. I would post all of her responses to all of the questions, but that may be like one of those annoying parents who shows 50 different poses of their child in the same pose, at a slightly different angle. At any rate, here’s her response to question number one.
What knowledge and experience (academic, personal, professional, intercultural, etc.) have prepared or motivated you to pursue this degree program?
When I was a child, I was surprisingly realistic about my future. When asked by adults what they wanted to be when they grew up, other children would say they were going to be doctors, lawyers, and astronauts. To which I would think, surprisingly cynically for a child: “Realistically, how many of you will make it?” My family emigrated from South America. By the time my mother made the journey to the United States of America with her six children she was thirty, single and unsure of how to feed her overwhelming number of progeny should she have stayed in her native Uruguay. Arriving in California, she met my Colombian father. Already with nine children of his own, my father and mother married and I was born, the first American citizen of the family, one year and six days to my mother’s arrival in the United States.
As a child of immigrants, and with many siblings, I approached the situation of my future realistically. There was little money and many children, and college was something no one discussed. It was assumed that after high school we would find jobs and help the family financially until we had our own families to provide for. When considering a potential career it seemed to me that being a police officer would be a solid, respectable choice. “My family would be proud of me…” I thought, “Although, maybe that would be aiming too high?” At the age of nine, I decided I would be a security guard.
I never thought about going to college. The reason was simple: I did not think I could. I thought my family’s economic situation could not put so many children through college, and logically never thought it was a possibility. Then someone asked me if I was interested in attaining a college degree. I was told that there was state and federal money available for children from low-income homes. I responded, “Yes, I wanted to go to college.”
Afraid still, to aim too high, I cautiously moved forward thinking my associate’s degree would be first. “I do not want to get ahead of myself by aiming for a four-year degree,” I thought. Near the completion of my associate’s degree I applied to several universities in the California State University system. When I received my first acceptance letter, I cried. I became the first person in my family to attend college.
The power of my past is that it has instilled a passion of possibilities in my life. As I continue to move forward, it seems that “I-can-be-anything” attitude that causes young children to believe they can become doctors and astronauts, has finally reached me. With each path I pursue, the world continues to open up to me. My Peace Corps service has been no exception.
Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras has continued to open the world to me. I have longed to find work which contributes to the world I live in. As a child, when I believed I could not aspire to greatness, I often felt a struggle within me; it was a deep desire to do work that held purpose, to pursue work beyond merely a title and a career. I felt a passion to contribute and was not sure how to satisfy this feeling. In Peace Corps it became more apparent, often in small ways, and that struggle within felt its release when I realized I could work in the service of contributing to the world we live in. It was the satisfying thought of the human race as connected, national boundaries aside.
My service as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) has consisted of working at two levels; one exists at a higher level with the leaders of my community, and the other is work at a very basic human level working directly with Hondurans. This is work that I have found to be personally rewarding. It is from this work that I experienced a defining moment not only in my service but also in terms of my future.
When I first arrived in my community as a PCV I began teaching a basic computer course. The majority of my students came from some of the local villages in which they had no electricity and most had to make a special trip each day we had class. Two of my best students, a brother and sister around 15 and 18 years of age, walked two hours both ways in order to receive these classes. When I was first asked to give these classes I was nervous because I had never taught and doubted myself, questioning, “What can I teach them?”
My answer came on the first day of class. In Spanish, I asked them to open the folder on their desktop titled “Computer Class.” No one moved. Something occurred to me. I said, “Stop! How many of you have ‘touched’ a computer before?” One girl slowly, shyly raised her hand and said, “Well, I have touched one before.”
This is a moment that will continue to define my reasons to pursue work at the international level. I experienced a realization that the skills that I thought simple and not worthy of sharing were what my students, having never “touched” a computer, needed. Bigger than that, it was the realization that sometimes as development workers we question what it is that we are leaving behind. What can we offer a community? What can we offer the developing world? The answer is a lot, even in the less obvious ways.
What has drawn me to the Master of Global Management program has been a combination of all these life experiences. My privilege is not only to have been born in a country that holds a multitude of opportunities not afforded in many other regions of the world, but also to have a personal understanding of the reasons that drive a mother’s decision to forever leave behind her native country with her children. Having been raised between cultures, I have an awareness that only first generation children of immigrants can fully appreciate. I will forever be aware of the life my family left behind and the life I was born into. I have found a path to create opportunity and change in the lives of others so that they might be able to live under better conditions without the need to emigrate from their own country. Now I look to the training that I will receive from the faculty and my peers at the Global Management program which can help me to become a socially responsible and effective leader, one who can create positive change, regardless of what country you live in. I am motivated by a desire to create change in both small and large ways.