Growing up was not easy for me. I really doubt it is for anyone. It’s a period of change, and when you’re young, you don’t really know what change means or how to deal with it.
When I was eleven, my dad died of lung cancer. It was really hard growing up without him, especially because my mom is an immigrant. We moved to the US when I was six. That meant I had to take on a lot of responsibility when I was really young. I was definitely not prepared to do that, but I had to.
It was tough growing up so quickly, I missed out on a lot of things that other kids got to do. However, it also meant that I learned to appreciate life a lot sooner than most. I never took my mom for granted again. It gave me a new source of determination and focus.
My dad was the entire world to me. He had emancipated himself at 15 and worked throughout high school to support himself. After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy working on nuclear submarines. He then worked his way through Berkeley and received a full scholarship to complete his master’s degree at Princeton University. Needless to say, I looked up to him and wanted to be just like him.
When he died, I didn’t really know what to do. The only thing I knew that he cared about was learning. No matter how tired he was, he always checked my homework and encouraged me to do well in school. He said that school was the great equalizer. He had come from a poor family, but because he was smarter than everyone else, it didn’t matter. He pushed himself and was better for it.
This is what I needed to do. While I may not have had as much fun in high school, I received a (almost) full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, my dream school. I now know a happiness I could have never dreamed of growing up.
Not only has Penn pushed me to be better in so many different ways, but it has also given me opportunities beyond my imagination. I would never have made it to Rio if Penn hadn’t offered me the opportunity. I would never have worked at the Council of Foreign Relations if Penn hadn’t instilled in me a confidence that yes, I am good enough. Next year I will graduate knowing that not only did I get the best possible education for me, but I also grew into the woman I have always wanted to become. I am someone who is motivated and driven by the pursuit of knowledge and a desire to make the world a better place.
My dad is who drives me every day, still, to do better. I am passionate about development, particularly in Latin America. I am still learning and growing. However, one day, when I “grow up”, I hope to be able to help Latin American countries solve these questions of development and reach their maximum potential. You can’t do it alone. It’s okay to ask for help, I would never have gotten to where I am without Penn’s help. I am completely unashamed to admit it.
Being abroad made me grow up in a different way. I have never been so far from my friends and my family for so long. I got homesick. It happens. However, obstacles are just momentary challenges that are only there until you figure out how to overcome them. I didn’t let homesickness beat me because I realized that I’m living in Rio de Janeiro. I am so lucky to have this opportunity that it would be a shame to not take advantage of it.
I want to thank you all so much for following me on my journey to Brazil. It has been quite an adventure. I hope that my life continues to be as exciting. I want you all to know that not only are you capable of doing what I’ve done, but are capable of even more. It all depends on how dedicated you are to achieving your goals. I can tell you that if you give it your everything, good things generally come. Sometimes things are hard, but that just makes happiness an even better reward.
I know that we live in an era of instant gratification, and that’s probably the hardest part of growing up – how slowly time seems to pass. Trust me, though: The years get shorter, and when you invest in your future, the payoff is much greater than if you opt for momentary happiness in the short term.
Please feel free to contact me if you ever need advice on anything, I am always happy to help! I also have a ridiculous amount of knowledge about colleges and the application process following the in-depth research I did before completing my own applications.
On a lighter note, if you are ever in Rio, here are my top suggestions of things to do once you are 18:
- Watch the sunset from the rock at Arpoador beach that overlooks the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon
- Go to a party at Alto Vidigal and stay for the sunrise
- Go to Lapa, just once, and dance samba at Carioca da Gema
- Hike up to Cristo. It is long and steep, and you will get tired and grumpy, but once you see Jesus’ smiling face, it is all worth it.