Sandra Usúga

Life Story – Sandra Usúga

Feb. 16th, 2005

 

Italicized text represents Sandra’s clarification of what she was saying.

 

I was born in 1978, and when I was a child I used to live with my father and my mom. And the story of them was – my mom and my father, when she was about 16 years old, they didn’t get married. Just because she had sexual relationships with him (my dad), it was really hard for my mom’s family, and just because of that, my grandfather told her to go away from home because the religion was really strong; this was a result, I guess, of the strong influence of their religious beliefs. And so, my mom went to my dad’s because he was the only one. So they got together but they didn’t get married. They were living together. After I think, 2 years, my mom was pregnant. I was born when she was about 18 or 20, really young. So we were living together. It was really a good family, a good relationship even though we were a humble family. I felt like my dad really loved me a lot. He was there all the time. And my mom too. My mom was like the strong part of the family. Like when I was making a mistake, or something like a child, she was the strong part. But my dad, he never hit me or anything like that.

But when I was seven years old my dad was living in another town of my city. I was born in Medellín, which is the second largest city of Colombia, like a 3 million people city. We were living there and my dad had some business, he was a salesman always working with like groceries stories. At that time, he was living in Urabá, which is like the pacific coast of the state. And so, he used to be the type of man who had a lot of women. Women were following him. Things like that. And so when he went to live and work in that place he met another woman so my mom knew that he was going to get married with another woman. And so it was so hard for her. So, by the time she knew it, she went to travel to that city to say “look – how come you stop living with me? How come are you going to get married?She was asking for explanations. It was so hard for her. She had found out from another friend and when she asked him he didn’t admit it. He just said “no, this is not true, it’s a lie. Please don’t believe those things.” And she got back to Medellín, the city again. It was kind of “uh.” She believed him and so everything was ok. But then he just came back and he said that he was leaving and he really got married with another person. He was 2 months there and 2 months back, back and forth. The thing was, it was my mom’s first love and everything was the first time for her. So she was so upset. But then he came and he left her when I was seven years old.

I was in the 2nd grade, primary school. And I was so tight with my dad. You can’t imagine. My dad was my dad. I used to say like “oh no, I love more my dad than my mom.” This is common in little girls. And so, it was a very difficult time for me because we lived with my dad for seven years and with my mom for nine years. He used to say things like I’m not the kind of man who gets married, and then he did it. And so the rumors were that the woman was older than my mom and I think than my father. And she also had money. Her family was a privileged family. So they were saying that because of that, my dad did it. Or I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s true. That’s where families were commenting. The thing is, that period of my life was really hard. And I was in second grade in school and I had always been a good student. I loved studying, learning. Before entering the primary school I was so enthusiastic and would say like “mom: teach me how to write” and so I was so excited and I really loved it. But because of this situation I didn’t want to know anything about school. So every time I used to go to school I was crying all through the whole day, crying and crying. I was feeling like I was empty. And the teachers from school used to change my classrooms. Cousins of mine were studying there so they placed me with them. But it didn’t work. I kept saying “I want to live with my dad.” And crying and crying.

When I was home I used to hear my mom crying. And my mom was not prepared for that because she didn’t work, she didn’t study. The whole world had fallen down in a minute. I used to see her crying and crying. I remember the images. I’d say “mom don’t cry.” but I was crying. It was so, so hard. My mom started an attitude really sad at that time. Sometimes she started having strong attitudes towards me. She was hitting me for any reason. My grandfather was like “Gloria, please don’t, why did you hit the girl she’s not doing something to deserve that?” I understand her.   But then, little by little the principal of the school gave her advice. He told her, “Don’t push her, just let her rest a little bit and just think about it. Maybe next year she will be happy again to study but don’t force her anymore.” So my mom did that. My mom contacted my dad and said, “Sandra doesn’t want to study, she wants to be with you so I don’t know what to do.” So my dad was going to send a ticket for me to come to his place, but thank god I finally didn’t go. He was living on the Pacific coast of Colombia. And so one night I saw my mom crying because I was going to leave and so I just said, no – I can not do this. Even though I was seven years old girl. Sometimes right now I think my attitudes then were mature. No, I can not leave my mom. It wasn’t the right way. So I said, “No I don’t want to leave now, Mom. I want to stay with you.” That year I think was good that I wasn’t studying. I took my time to rest and everything. I felt much better. I went through the grief (mourning) process. Still, I loved my dad.   That image was really important to me.

By the passing of the time, I entered again into school and I was really enthusiastic and excited about studying. And I did really well. When my dad left, my family – my mother’s family – they were supporting us. My grandfather would say, “Oh no, don’t worry Gloria.” My grandparents came back. They were a big support for my mom and for me because while my mother was working I was with them.   My dad’s parents lived in the same neighborhood, but my father’s family has been really apart. I am closer to my mom’s family. I see them like my parents. My dad left us a little house but that time it was really humble. Sometimes the water could just go into the house or anyone could open the door. And so my mom started preparing herself with clothing because the Medellín city is a city where a lot of clothing factories are. It is the fashion city. It is one of its main industries. So my mom was learning how to sew on machines. That’s how she paid for my studies, my food, everything. While she was working, I was at home with my grandmother, grandfather. I was in very good hands. They really cared about me. I was the type of girl that didn’t give them a lot of problems. They used to love me a lot. And they still do. My grandfather already died. But my grandmother still loves me like her own child. Even though my dad left us this house we were mostly at my grandmother’s house. Then we moved to my grandparent’s house, about ten years after. With my mom’s work she made the house nice, decorated, and she was really a hard worker. She was always getting everything for me too.

My dad, even though he used to go to my place sometimes, I still felt his absence. Now I feel stronger. When I used to talk about this, for example, like let’s say twelve years ago, I would be crying. It’s because it was so hard for me. My dad used to come to my place, to my neighborhood, and buy me a pair of sneakers. Things that were like “Oh, thank you, but it’s not love.” But anyway, I used to love him and still love him a lot. I think the most important thing is that during those first years of my life he gave me a lot of love, I felt really great with him so I guess that’s why I don’t have a bad image. People ask me like “how come?” But I think that it’s because of the quality of love he gave me. When I was fifteen I invited him to my party but he didn’t show up. For the most important situations, he didn’t go to any. For example, I remember once when I looked for him. He was like moving, and I looked for him at one of his clothing stores. He just wasn’t there. I wanted to give him a Father’s Day present. I admire my mom because she’s never been resentful. She’s like; I’m going to buy the gift so you can give it to him. She didn’t try to say “You’re father’s bad.” She didn’t do anything like that. I admire her. Even though she suffered, she’s not like that. That is one of the images I remember. My mom was waiting on the corner. When I left I was like “Oh, he’s not here” and she said “Look, you see, you’re always following him, you’re always looking for him and he doesn’t care, Sandra. Please understand, he doesn’t love you or at least he doesn’t show you his love.” I felt really frustrated. I was thirteen. What I’m trying to say during my whole life I’ve been trying to look for him. He goes over there; I just try to get his phone number – to be in contact with him – to keep in contact with him.

My relationship with my mom has been always like friends. Even though she didn’t study (I think she studied until the 2nd grade of high school). My dad didn’t study either. But my mom even though she didn’t have access to education she is very intelligent and a hard worker and she knew how to raise me and I feel grateful for that. By the time my dad left she was just 25 years old. To get married again, she didn’t want to. She said she didn’t want to have a stepfather for her daughter because that could be dangerous. Sometimes stepfathers do other things to their wife’s child. And so my mom just didn’t want to. And I guess she really didn’t trust any men. It was her first experience, she was really young, she gave everything to him, and so it was hard for her. So I guess that’s the main reason. At that time, I was really jealous. I used to tell her “No, I don’t want to have any other father, no, because my dad is my dad.” That is a common reaction of a girl. When I used to go with her, men used to call out to her, she was really young. I tell her “Why didn’t you get someone, a good man?” But she tells me, “No, all men are the same.” She has that image. “I didn’t want to; I didn’t want to give you a stepfather. I didn’t want to do it. I’m not going to do it anymore.” Now she’s like 45. She’s still really young but she says “No, if I didn’t do it before why, now?” Religion plays a really important role in my family. There are contradictions – my mom tells me when she used to live with my dad they weren’t married. She said that she was in sin, “I’m not a good woman.” I’m not a good Catholic. If I didn’t make it with your dad I didn’t want to get a man and be with him and I know that after you have a child men are going to look just for sex, those things. So that’s why she didn’t want to. I’m not going to be living in sin.

During that time I entered high school. All my memories from high school and primary school are really good. I used to be really active. I was also kind of a shy girl especially with men; I think because of what I saw happened with my mom. I was really careful with boys in high school. I was the kind of girl who was afraid to show affection. He might think I’m just going to play with this girl. And I didn’t want to. When my friends or my classmates were having sex at 13 or 14, I was saying “no way.” For example, my first kiss was about 16. It was because I was trying to think before; I wasn’t the kind of girl that was going to get adventure. I was trying to be careful. I think it’s because of that thing between my mom and my dad. She wasn’t the type of mom who was always trying to keep you here, telling you like: you can’t have a boyfriend. She used to tell me: if you’re going to have a boyfriend at the age of 13, you can do it but bring him home. I don’t want you to just speak to boys at the corners and do things behind me. It doesn’t make sense, Sandra. It’s for your own good. Trust me. When she had sex with my dad for the first time, the person who told my grandfather was her best friend. So she says, “don’t trust friends, I can be your friend.”

Something I also think about now is when I was 8 or 9 years old I think I was really mature. Maybe this experience made me stronger. For example, when I used to fail an exam I used to cry but that’s because I was thinking of the efforts my mom was doing when she was working. And I used to think “no, how come, I can’t do this. My mom is working hard for me.” Now I feel kind of impressed with my attitude as a child. I was always in the top ten students of the class during most of my entire academic life. I was mostly in the top 5% of the class because I was thinking about my mom and how hard she was working for me. I wanted to show her that I was grateful. And she was always looking for things for me. In my neighborhood, when I was a child, the other girls were kind of jealous because my mom used to buy me beautiful dresses and shoes and things like that. I really had a beautiful childhood; however there is something that was really hard for me to handle by that time.

An uncle of mine used to touch me sexually. I think I was 9 years old. It was in my grandfather’s house. He used to touch me. He didn’t rape me, but he molested me. I used to feel so dirty. My mom used to say to me “Sandra, don’t let any man touch your genitals. If that happens please let me know.” I think she had an intuition. So one day she started advising me and I started crying and crying and my mom said “What happened, tell me?” So I told her the truth. My god, she was so upset. I didn’t want her to tell my grandmother because my uncle was married. I was really afraid. I said, “I’m going to avoid him, promise you won’t tell anybody.” I was really afraid. It was so hard. She was advising me because in the past another cousin of mine – his stepfather used to do ugly, ugly things to her. So my mom was aware. So that time, every time I was near to my uncle I would run away. He used to look at me so angrily. I was so scared of him. It was hard because it was my grandmother’s house where everybody goes. I can’t avoid seeing him. I was still feeling guilty and dirty. How come I allowed that? I think it affected my self esteem. Every time I remembered that, even as a teenager, I would cry. Time is the best for you to recover and something that has helped me a lot is not to be resentful of my father or of my uncle. I just try to recover from that. Now I just look at him but I don’t hate him although it’s not the same relationship I have with other uncles. I just don’t want to think of that. I know that he has his own conscience and God is the only one that can heal (judge) him. I just decided to forget it, although sometimes I still think what is in a person’s mind to do that to a child. I just try to keep my attention on my studies.   I try to do my best all the time.

I had a really good time in my school always with good friends. I saw many things in my neighborhood that have made me very strong. I used to study in my neighborhood through primary school. But my high school was in another neighborhood which was about 30 minutes by car. It was a middle-class neighborhood. From my neighborhood I had 4 friends and I still have one who studied with me at high school. We are still very close friends. At that time in the neighborhood, I wanted to go to the other high school because I was enthusiastic to take a bus alone. I was feeling like an adult. And I heard that was a good school. So my friends mostly were from high school and I still see them. We are like 6 people and we still get together for our birthdays. One of my friends got married in December – things like that. I was the type of girl who went to high school and then home with my family or playing (when I was a child). When I was a teenager I was most of the time in my home until I was like 17 when I used to sing in a musical group. My teacher from high school liked my voice and said, “Why don’t you come here? I have a group outside high school and we’re planning to record a CD. It’s a big project; would you like to join us?” And I said, “Yes.” So I entered that group.

We were playing tropical music like salsa, merengue, and they were composing their own songs. But in the group there were like 15 people. But groups are really hard to maintain and so we broke up and then we were 8 people so we started another project in pop music, rock, fusion – different types of Latin music. But then the group again broke up, but I was with them for 3 or 4 years. I was doing mostly dancing and helping with the chorus. The reason why the group broke up was because there was a lot of selfishness. We were in a good way. Some places of the city were supporting us – promoting us – and we were getting contracts with them. It was going to be a big project. But the guy who was directing the group was kind of selfish. For example, most people in the audience used to tell us, “Why don’t you sing more, you have a beautiful voice. How come they don’t give you songs?” I used to ask him, “Why don’t you let us sing?” He would say, “Oh no, I just composed this song for a man.” After some years, I was like, I’m here, we have to buy our own uniforms, I have to pay for my bus tickets to go to the place where we used to rehearse, and paying for our own things, and we were just sex symbols. The type of roles those groups (bands) used to give to women.

Music began to be a really big part of my life. But I was also multi-faceted. I wanted to go and study at the university but I also wanted to be a singer. What should I do? At the same time, I had to study because my mom told me, “Look Sandra, I can pay for your studies of a two year program so that you can be able to work and if you want to keep studying you will have to pay for it because I can not afford to pay for 5 years of university.” So I said, OK, I will do bilingual secretary program because I knew it would be easy for me to get a job in that, and at least to get a middle salary. At school, we used to study English but every year there was a different teacher and there was not a continuous study. So every year, I was studying the verb “to be.” And so I didn’t know anything. But I knew that I wanted to learn English. Bilingual secretary would also give me the opportunity to gain more money. When I graduated from (high) school I didn’t know what to do. I knew I had to study the bilingual program otherwise I wouldn’t be able to, but I also wanted to study music or to keep working with this (musical band) group. But it didn’t work. After school I kept singing with them but after two years it was over.

There was a guy who entered to this musical group. He was a pianist. He gave us a lot of support because he had a lot of contacts like with discos and record companies. He was in a higher status, living in a better neighborhood. He had a lot of problems with his family because he was a civil engineer and his family didn’t want him to work with music. His mom was like “No, I’m sick, I’m going to die because look, you don’t spend a lot of time with your family because you’re always with that group (band).” Music absorbs you all the time. We were all the time rehearsing. After school I just went there. His family didn’t want him to work with music so it was hard. But he gave us a lot of support and gave us a lot of contacts that promoted us. The guy who was directing the group said “Oh no, no one is indispensable. Any person can be replaced.” I was like, how come you say that? Look, this guy has given us his good work, his contacts, he’s promoting us. How do you just say “go” in that easy way? Four years of my life here I don’t regret because I love music and I had a lot of good experiences with the group (band) and I grew up a lot in music. But I was like, four years and how come we don’t even have a strong friendship? I’m spending money, time and effort and this guy doesn’t … When we would ask him for money for our uniforms – because we were already earning good money – and he didn’t give us anything. And our instruments were for them and not us. I remember that I cried one whole Saturday, “No, I don’t want to leave the group.” But there was no reason to stay there.   I just pray “God, give me the opportunity to be involved with music even though I’m not going to be a professional musician – at least to keep in contact with it. At least so I can still sing because that is one of the things in life I love.”

And so I entered into the two year program. One of the professors who met me at school, he used to be the director of this group (the teacher who met me when it was the big group). The thing was that he was going the wrong way with me and the other girl. He told me, “Apart from the group, I would like you to sing with me.” And I was getting money. I was growing up with my voice and everything. But he started with those things like going into the other way. I was very naïve. He was married and had like six children. Even though I was very naïve, I was cautious. He was like, “Why don’t we go to this concert?” And I was like “No,” making excuses and avoiding going out with him. He was trying to work me psychologically.   He said “don’t worry”… I said “no no no, I have to study”… I kept saying, “Why don’t we go with the entire group?” He said “no, no, no, don’t you trust me?” Still, I wanted to keep singing with him because he had a piano, a big one, and we starting to sing apart from the group to form a bolero (duo)… it was gorgeous. So I was really enthusiastic but when he started with those things I was like, hmm, this is not going to work. There was a time when he was touching my hair and so at that time I said I’m not going to come back here and I just stopped. And I told the other guys but I didn’t want to tell anybody because I didn’t want to damage his image, but there was a time when another girl said that he tried to do something with her so they understand (they asked me). “Did he do the same thing?” And I said yes, he was always proposing me to go out with him. At that time he was not the director of the group.   That was when we formed the 8 person group (band). And his brother was the director. He was younger and talented and sings beautiful and his lyrics are gorgeous. But he was very selfish. So ah! Nothing is perfect.

Then I started the program and I was really enthusiastic and I studied bilingual secretary and I was learning how to type and I went into computer classes and business administration, English classes – they were much better than my classes in high school. So I was really getting it. I knew that I learned I was good for languages. I think it was really good. This two year program allowed me to know me better, to direct better my goals. I was still like “ah, my music” but then I searched for programs in one of the best universities of Colombia which is the University of Antioquia. They had the department of music but when I went there they told me “no, for you to study here you have to have minimum 8 hours to study outside the classroom” So it was like a full time studying and so I couldn’t apply because I needed to work and I needed to study in order to (achieve my goals) survive. I learned that was not my way. And because I learned also during this 4 years of experience singing with the group that within the music scene there are certain things that don’t work well and for women it is harder sometimes. And if you don’t have the money then maybe you can do that the other way. That wasn’t my way. So I said no. Even with this group we were knocking on the doors of the recording companies. They used to say, we can buy your songs because they’re good but we give you the money for the songs. They were not going to promote the whole group. For them it is cheaper to just have a single. There was not a lot of support. So I just said, if I study music and spend a lot of years with no money, no work, I can not do that. I have to work to at least make it so my mom doesn’t work for me her whole life. I was studying hard.

I met a girl in high school who was a dentist’s assistant and so one day she told me, “Oh would you like to replace me because I’m working with a dentist on weekends but I can not go this coming Sunday, could you go?” So I told her, Ok. But I don’t know anything about it.   She said, “No don’t worry, I’ll draw you the instruments and everything and the dentist told me he would teach you. Don’t worry, he will help you” … I did it and I liked it. And I was really good at it. I learned the names of the instruments and he taught me everything too … and so my friend couldn’t keep working with him and so I was studying during the week and then I kept working with the dentist …

This is the first time I’m living alone. Usually in my culture, I think in most Latin American countries, we live with our families and we study in the same city. Maybe it’s also because of the economical factor. The other factor is that we are really tied to our families and it is really hard to just say “bye, I’m leaving.” My mom was like “don’t go, Sandra.” when I was coming here, and I am 26 …

During this 2 year program I got this job with the dentist. And he liked my job and he recommended me to another doctor who used to work during the week so I was studying half of the day and the other half of the day working with the dentist. And during the weekends with the other dentist. I was 18 years old … When I was almost finished with my 2 year program we had to have the internship. They got me an internship that was for a computer company. And I was there and I was really excited. My first job. I was really enthusiastic. But I was just for 2 weeks there. Imagine. The guy who was the manager was the owner of the company and his wife was the second manager and he was sexual harassment. He started saying, “Ah Sandra, what a beautiful dress and things like that.” But for me those things were normal … But I said, “Oh thank you.” But I didn’t take it that way. But one day, Friday, I went to his office and he said “oh Sandra” – he said ugly things – “your hair on your arms, your freckles are so cute.” I kept saying like “Could you please tell me which company I have to call?” Just trying to make, to change, the subject. And then he started again. And then he went to my side and he was going to touch me. I said “God, what are you doing?” And he just changed the subject and he said ugly things and I just went out from that office and my world had fallen down. At least I didn’t tell him ugly words. I just left …

Then I got another internship with the International Center, which is located in the center of the city. I went there and my boss was a woman. I hope she is not “the other way.” No, but she was really demanding. She’s now like my mentor. She was a really influential person in my professional life. I went there, I was really naïve. I didn’t have any experience but she was really patient. She was at the same time, demanding. So I was trying to work hard and I was doing my best there. I started with the basic responsibilities like answering the phones, maybe writing some papers or making some copies things like that. But little by little I was more and more involved in the job. And this was the office for International relations for studies abroad. It was founded by some people from the US and some Colombians. It is like a cultural place. They have art galleries, two cinema theatres, cinema art, one of the best libraries of South America, in terms of fields of art photography, education, and English … a lot of things … plus the ESL classes and the office of study abroad which is a non-profit office. This is a non-profit institution. I got really interested. I started meeting people who had left the country and people who had graduated from doctoral studies. Really people who were involved in higher education. And so I was almost finished with my internship to graduate from the 2-year program and so I told her, “Look I need to gain more experience. I’m not interested in finishing. Could you please talk to the director so that I can keep working here and studying English?” So I said I’ll be able to work even for a year because I need the experience and I like it here. She said, “Yeah, why not? I’m going to talk to him. I like the way you work and you are really enthusiastic and… whatever.” He said, “Yes, no problem, you can keep working here and studying English.”

I graduated from this 2-year program and I was working there. A year after, they hired me for a part-time job and I was really happy because at least I could get some money, and (so on and so forth) everything. It was great. Six-months after, they just said “Oh we’re going to hire you full time.” I was so happy. So I started working and a year after my boss told me “Sandra, now you have to start your college studies. You can not just stay like this.” I said, “Yes, of course I want to do it.” And this institution helps the employees with their studies. So they were going to pay 60% of each semester. This is great. So I said OK. I took the exam for the University of Antioquia, one of the best ones in the city, but at the same time it was harder to get in. 30 places for 3,000 people. By that time I wanted to study either languages or communications, and for communications it was 40 places for 3,000 people … Because it’s a public university, it also has a lot of strikes. So sometimes it takes longer and I was very interested to finish a 5-year program in 5 years, not 7…She told me about this program UPB (Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana), a private school, a private Catholic school. And so I was really interested. And so I entered to the university and I started studying and full-time working and studying on weekends like Saturdays from 6am-6pm. The whole day. And I was working still with the doctor, with the dentist on Sundays. But then I got someone to replace me because I knew that I wasn’t able to because there was a time when I was not giving the same energy and I was tired because it was too much. So I decided to at least quit with the dentist…(I trained a cousin of mine to start working with him, but after a while she couldn’t continue, because by that time he needed to get an official hygienist because the government, public health regulations were stronger at that time… (A year after my cousin started working with the dentist, the Ministry of Health was demanding that all hygienists needed to have a certificate to be able to work as dentist’s assistant) they needed at least a two-year program or one-year program. I quit that job and started studying (at the university) and working.

Because of my level of English that I gained in the International Center, I took an exam so I didn’t have to take all the courses for English, so I could do it (my college studies) in four years….I liked it a lot. At first, I was used to see a program like languages as education, like I was going to be a teacher so I was like hmm, because I never thought I could be a teacher. I was kind of afraid of it. But then the second year of college and the third year I was more involved, more interested. I really liked it a lot. I graduated in 2003, a year before coming here. Like when I was graduating, the one who was my boss, she called me and said, “Look, Bowdoin College has this opportunity” and so I said Oh. I told her that I was going to apply to another Youth exchange program which is about the same that I’m doing here (at Bowdoin), a program that was coordinated in my office, with IIE … So I told her I have already applied, I have already registered to take the TOEFL test … then the week I was graduating she called me and said “Look, I was talking to my brother and he said that Bowdoin has never taken a Colombian student so maybe you can apply.” And I said “Oh, that’s great. That’s perfect.” She told me all the benefits and I was like, ah – that is the program. Tell me what I have to do. And so she said, “Send your cv (résumé) and an essay” and I just did it. By the third week of December of 2003 one of the Bowdoin professors calls me and I didn’t know him because I just saw like once in Colombia like 5 years ago…He said, “ah, hello and introduced him self to me, blah, blah” He said I was accepted and I said this is the best thing (gift) I can have for my graduation.

…(xxxx) is my mentor. She knows so much about this subject and she was always advising me, “No you have to study”…usually bosses are kind of jealous. She was sharing all her knowledge with me. Remember, I told you that I started with the basics. Very little later, I tell her I would like to do the group sessions that you give because you used to give group sessions for people. And she tells me, OK go and observe and if you feel you can do it I’ll allow you to do it. So I said “Great.” I started attending her group sessions for the Youth exchange program and I just learned how to do it. She said if you keep working like that I will give you this program to coordinate. I was promoted. In 2 or 3 years I was like the right hand of the boss … One day we learned that the receptionist in the building was earning more money than me and she said, “oh no – this is not fair because look she has more responsibility”. In those things, she also fought for me to be promoted not only with responsibility but the economic factors, which is also very important. And so I was promoted … This office was just wonderful to work in, a good environment. I really grew up in that space. In this place I learned the big impact that leaving your country for 6 months or a year or whatever; living outside the country, the impact is huge when you return. Even when you are away too. The impact on your family and your self and your profession is big.

Once I finished my college studies I was going to go into an exchange program. And then I would like to do my graduate. I feel so happy and so proud because it has not been a piece of cake like you have here. So that’s why I value each time I leave here. It’s been really nice … I will go and teach English (when I return). Now I’m looking for a graduate program in the States because there are scholarships and the quality of graduate programs here is really good. In Colombia, high school and college studies have a high quality, really good, but the graduate there are a few of them. This is because of the economical factor. There is not a lot of support or researchers to research. So I would like to do it here because you can also get a lot of contacts. For me, it would be great also to come back to Colombia for my job, for everything. It’s been gorgeous. I used to prepare, when I was coordinating the high school exchange program, I used to prepare ( Pre-departure-orientation program) students before coming here (to the U.S.), but now I feel I was telling them the right things but talking not from my heart (own experience). Now I’ve lived it. I can for sure tell them do this, don’t do that. Sometimes it was hard because I would say, “Don’t talk to your family, only once a week.” Now I understand how hard it is. I knew that it might be hard, but I didn’t live it. Now I’m more conscious of the experience. The first semester was harder for my mom and my grandma and for me …but now I’m enjoying it.

This time is running away. Now I know that I’m going to cry when I have to leave. It’s been quite an experience to live alone. During the first month last semester I said “Ah, there is a ghost in my house.” The fact that I have never lived alone. My home is always filled with people. I live with my grandmother, 2 uncles, 2 aunts in the same house. My mom, there are like 3 floors here in front and 3 behind and all of that is family. Now I’m completely alone. In Colombia, where I live in a neighborhood that is humble, it is always full of people, music here, over there, and children playing on the street. Middle class and higher class neighborhoods there is not a lot of people on the streets. So I was accustomed to hearing music here, there, people just walking in and going to the balcony … Now it’s like the opposite – quiet, calm … I also started a relationship with my boyfriend just before coming here. We were together just for 8 months when I arrived here so it was also hard because he’s the type of man that I was looking for – like all the qualities I needed to have (was looking for in a man). I was afraid I was going to lose him …”Why now? Now that I’m leaving. Now I found the person.” I was really afraid of that. But things have worked pretty well for both of us, and our relationship is stronger now. It’s stronger now. Life is really nice.

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