first generation college studentI will never forget the first time I told my mom about my plans to study abroad. When I first brought up the idea, she gave me a look I usually only get if I did something really wrong. With heavy concern in her voice, she looked at me and said, “Absolutely not Jaime. It is too dangerous to be outside the United States right now. You need to be here focusing on school.” Before going into this conversation, I knew my mother would be hesitant and concerned. As a first generation college student, my mother did not have the opportunity to go to college. She had no idea that programs like study abroad existed until I had the conversation with her. After numerous attempts at convincing her how much this experience meant to me, I finally received her blessing under one small condition.

My mother told me she would allow me to go abroad if I figured out a way to fund the trip on my own. As a college student who only worked 8 hours a week, I knew this would be impossible unless I started saving up money well in advance. I spoke with my academic advisor about my situation, and he told me to create an tentative plan containing the following information: which semester I wanted to study abroad, how much money I needed to save, and which classes I needed to take in order to graduate on time. I created this outline during the fall semester of my sophomore year with the hope of studying abroad my junior spring semester. I knew if I stuck with this plan that I would be able to make my dream of studying abroad as a first-generation college student come true.

first generation college studentAfter creating a plan to fund my study abroad, I now had to decide which country I wanted to go to. I knew I wanted to travel to a Spanish speaking country to improve my Spanish speaking skills. After I had a meeting with my Spanish advisor, she believed that studying abroad in Spain would be the best option for the classes I wanted to take and the environment I wanted to live in. Once I decided that my heart was set on going to Spain, I promised myself that nothing was going to stop me from experiencing a semester abroad.

I started to fill out my application to study abroad in Spain the fall semester of my junior year. In the middle of the application process, I became very overwhelmed with all the paperwork I needed to get done. I had no idea how to fill out a visa form or passport application. I couldn’t go to anyone in my family because none of them had passports of their own. Whenever I went to my mother for support through my application process, she always brought up how nervous she was for me to study abroad. At one point in my application process, I contemplated withdrawing my application because I was so overwhelmed with everything I needed to get done.

first generation college studentAs I was typing an email to BCA Study Abroad with the subject line “Withdrawing My Application,” I had an epiphany moment unlike anything I ever felt before. Right as I was going to hit the send button, I remember the promise I made to myself that nothing was going to stop me from studying abroad. I already had a large portion of my money saved up. I went out of my way to convince my mother that this was something I needed to do. I met with my advisors multiple times to formulate a schedule that allowed me to not only take the classes I want to take abroad, but also to graduate on time. I realized if I sent this email withdrawing my application, that all the work I did to study abroad in Spain would have been for nothing. More importantly, the promise I made to myself to let nothing stop me from achieving this dream would have been broken. After sitting down for ten minutes and seriously contemplating my decision, I decided to erase the email and move forward with my application.

After filling out all the necessary documents and paperwork, I was accepted into the BCA Valladolid program. I was overcome with emotion when I received the news of my acceptance. I shared the news with my family, and we celebrated as Puerto Rican families usually do when good news is spread: through music, dancing, and great Spanish food. After my acceptance, my mother began to support my decision to study abroad. She told me she was proud of everything I had accomplished in life and she wanted me to go to Spain and represent Puerto Rican culture with pride.

Before I knew it, the time for preparation and planning was over. January 6th, 2017, the day I was set to leave for Spain, came right around the corner. As I boarded my flight, I thought about everything I overcame to get to this point. All the trials and tribulations I faced with my family, the application process and being a first generation college student made me strong. I knew I was ready to go on this adventure. Most importantly, as I watched the plane take off into the sky, I realized I fulfilled my promise of letting nothing stop me from spending a semester studying abroad.

My time in Spain was both enjoyable and unforgettable. I lived amongst the Spanish community through a host family. I immersed myself in Spanish culture through the language and customs. I attended dance classes two times a week learning Flamenco and Latin dancing. I ate foods I never ate before, danced to music I never heard before, and traveled to parts of the world I never knew existed. Through my time abroad I not only traveled through Spain, but also traveled to England, Belgium, Czech Republic, Morocco, and a number of other European countries. Overall, my experience abroad was everything I dreamt it would be. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I couldn’t wait to return home to share these experiences with my friends and family.

Upon my return to the United States, I felt a feeling of inspiration and euphoria. My time abroad inspired me to do something amazing after graduation. I did not want to be the typical college student who got a job making a decent living with a college degree. As nice as that sounds to put my degree into action, both my mind and heart had other ideas. After coming back from Spain, I met with my Spanish professor and I told her I want to apply for the Fulbright Program. She told me in addition to applying for Fulbright that I should also consider applying to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. As embarrassing as this may sound, before having this conversation with my professor, I had no idea what Peace Corps was. When my professor described it to me, it sounded like an opportunity that fit perfectly with who I was and what I wanted to do after college.

I sent in an application in late October, and I was offered an interview in late December. After I had my interview, Peace Corps emailed me a week later confirming my acceptance as a Youth Development Facilitator in the country of Peru. When I saw that email with the subject line “Invitation to Serve,” I cried tears of joy. Words could not describe the emotions I felt as I learned I was going to spend the next two years of my life helping youth in Peru to become leaders of their community. My date of departure is September 3, 2018, which is three months after I graduate this May at Elizabethtown College.

This amazing accomplishment would not have been possible without my study abroad experience in Spain. Through my time studying abroad, I learned the importance of traveling the world. I spent a lot of time focusing on myself and the person I want to grow up to become. My experience abroad allowed me to reflect on everything I have undergone in life, and how I can apply those life experiences to the real world after I graduate in May. I became a strong, independent, culturally educated individual that has the opportunity to make a difference in the world as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Through my journey, it is my hope that I have inspired future first generation college students to pursue amazing opportunities during their time in college. I feel beyond blessed to have shared my story through BCA, and I look forward to everything the future has to hold during and after my time in Peace Corps.

About the Author – Jaime Ramos II, Spring 2017 Valladolid, Spain & Elizabethtown College student

Jaime is a senior Communications major from Reading, Pennsylvania. Outside of class, Jaime spends a majority of his time as a mentor in the Kinesis Peer Academic Advisor for the Momentum Program to first-generation college students, campus tour guide, and dancer in Emotion. Jaime’s hobbies include dancing, running, photography, and watching Philadelphia sports.

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