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Maribel Diaz

Strategy and Planning, City of Hope

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Adjusting to College Life Teaches Lessons for Future Life Transitions – Personal and Professional

03/29/2015 09:42AM | 5314 views

Over a decade later, I still recall the feelings of defeat and frustration as if it were only yesterday...

It was the last day of my first quarter in college and I walked out of my Chemistry final with my head hanging low, reflecting on the difficulties of the past couple of months: dorm life was not “homey,” the classes were significantly more challenging than expected, and I missed my family on a daily basis. I did not realize the transition to college would be this difficult—how would I be able to handle four more years? I felt like I was drowning.

I returned home just in time for the holidays and the house was filled with the familiar scents of chicken tamales and cinnamon buñuelos, my bedroom was just exactly as I had left it, and family welcomed me with arms wide open. I honestly had no desire to return to college and voiced this to my mother, thinking she would be excited that I would be returning home.

She listened to my woes, but as an immigrant to this country who had faced her fair share of challenges, she quickly imparted some wisdom that completely changed my perspective and subsequently defined my college experience:

Look for a community. Seek individuals who are willing to be part of your support system—in my case, it was finding the community that would be my “home away from home.” Hispanics thrive amongst the company of others and can form strong bonds, often treating others like family. Use this to your advantage as others will reciprocate.

Seek out resources and leverage them wisely. It is second nature for Hispanics to be resourceful as we are accustomed to living with less in our home countries and pursuing the “American Dream” requires one to have that mindset as we settle in a new place and begin to navigate the environment. Growing up in a large family (my father and mother have 13 and 7 siblings, respectively) and as new immigrants to this country, my parents were no different. My mother helped me realize that there were resources all around me, I just needed to put in the effort to find them – and they often led to opportunities I had not considered.

Understand that you are not defined by your shortcomings. I actually failed that Chemistry final and was crushed, but only for a short while. We all experience defeat and frustration; it is undoubtedly part of seizing opportunities and taking risks to venture to new places, but we cannot allow those feelings to define us. Instead, we have to learn from the experiences and move forward—just as our families have been doing for many decades when they migrated to this country.

I took that advice to heart and made the trek back to school (over 400 miles away from my home—which felt even farther because I was so family-oriented) with a new outlook that expanded my horizon – one which eventually led me to West Africa to conduct a nutrition questionnaire amongst village mothers; to the country of Chile to delve into the poetry of Pablo Neruda; and to Native American lands to experience life on the reservations –amongst a plethora of other life-changing experiences. I was no longer struggling to stay afloat; instead, me sentia como pez en el agua.  

My four years of college flew by, and I ended up loving every moment after that first quarter. The transition to college continues to be a formative experience in both my personal life and professional life. The lessons I learned can be applied to any significant life transition.

Maribel Diaz is working in strategy and planning at City of Hope.

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