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Jul 07 2017
by Alejandra Arevalo

How I Chose To Leave My Country And Study In The U.S.

By Alejandra Arevalo - Jul 07 2017
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Typically, Peruvians have strong family units, share the same house between several generations and follow their parents' career paths. Given that my father studied law, it would be easy for me to pursue the same major at a Peruvian university and rely on his name and prestige to find a well-paid job and a rich lawyer to be my husband. But that’s a simple future I decided not to have.

My parents were never an obstacle in my desire to study in the U.S., as they wanted me to access a better education than what is offered in my country. Problems came when I made public my future plans. I started by telling my grandmother, believing she would be proud as she didn’t attend university. Her most commonly said phrase was, "Study and become a strong independent woman that can change the world. Do what I didn’t."

Despite her past encouraging words, this time I received negativity. I explained her the benefits of studying abroad, but she couldn’t stop worrying about finances and living standards. Those things tormented me, yet I was just shocked when she asked, “Why do you want to leave if you have everything here?” 

I realized that was the real reason why I wanted to leave. Comfort, wealth and a secure future without effort weren’t what I wanted. I couldn’t tolerate being called “the daughter of,” as I believe everyone should be recognized for their name based on their merits. I had proven that throughout all high school, where I had strived to be the bes and, thanks to my effort, I graduated as valedictorian. Studying abroad was the next step into exceeding my limits.

Motivated by those thoughts, I started the application process to my American dream college. I told my classmates, believing they would support me as many of them were considering studying abroad too. But all of a sudden they changed their minds, arguing it was too difficult and that our chances of being admitted weren’t high anyway.

Being that this was the second time I heard that, I understood social pressure was pushing my friends into staying, filling their minds with insecurity. Their families promised them anything they wanted so they would continue their lives in Peru. But why? Fear of the unknown, I concluded. Like me, many of my classmates would be the firsts in their families to study abroad. Therefore, it was reasonable that their parents were scared and their fear was easily transmitted to my friends, teenagers doubtful about the future.

I started to feel afraid too. I went through the application process and found many terms I couldn’t understand and lots of requirements to fulfill. Undergraduate, major and liberal arts education were new words for my vocabulary because the educational system in Peru is immensely different than the American one. Although I can’t be called a first-generation college student since my parents attended Peruvian universities, I felt like one because they couldn’t give me information about American colleges and couldn’t help me research, as they don’t understand English.

But the desire to follow my dreams prompted me to continue despite all the negativity surrounding me. Now, as an admitted student to my dream college, I motivate my friends to pursue their personal goals despite fear and family pressures. I always tell them that if we believe we are capable of doing great things, we will have the physical and emotional strength to start doing them. But most importantly, I encourage them to take risks because if we don't even try, how do we expect to get what we dream of?

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Alejandra Arevalo - New York University

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