A Reflection from a Hispanic Doctoral Counselor Education Student on Hispanic Heritage Month
Leaving my home country of Peru was a courageous decision that changed my life eight years ago. I expanded my worldview in ways I had never imagined. What started as an idea of completing my bachelor’s degree, resulted in a master’s degree, and now a doctoral degree is in progress. As a Hispanic immigrant, I encountered unique experiences that I will share in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. My intention is to normalize, validate, and celebrate the experiences of students like me and to inform the broader community of the unique endeavors minority groups encounter in their journeys.
It is inevitable not to experience culture shock when you immigrate to a different country, especially if you do so as an adult. Basic experiences like greeting others highlight cultural differences. Coming from a collectivistic culture, adjusting to a primarily individualistic culture was a challenge. I carried, and still do, cultural values such as familismo, which refers to the importance of family. Being away from home emphasized this value because, despite the physical distance, I found ways to stay emotionally connected to my family members. Also, my preconceived notions regarding my interactions with my professors and other superior academic figures were questioned. In my culture, respeto is a cultural value that underscores the importance of compliance and power differences. I was used to having hierarchical relationships with my teachers and professors in Peru due to their academic position and the fact that they were older than me. However, my professors in the United States strived to have an egalitarian and cordial relationship with their students, which was unfamiliar initially, but I value it now.
Outside the interactions with my professors, I had to relearn how to navigate my interpersonal relationships. I went from being part of a not-very-diverse country to a highly diverse one. In all these different interactions, I was mindful of the language barrier. Even though I spoke overall fluent English, anybody could tell I had a foreign accent. Getting lost in translation, struggling to keep up with the fast talkers, or feeling concerned about not being fully understood were common experiences.
Despite the challenges, I can say that the benefits outweighed the adversities. Growth emerged from the unfamiliar. My worldview was significantly broadened. Aside from the academic knowledge I obtained from the different institutions I have attended, I established meaningful relationships with diverse individuals who taught more lessons than books can teach.
After eight years, I feel highly acculturated and still maintain my Hispanic identity because it is part of who I am and what makes me unique. Due to my ethnic background, I can help others with similar experiences in their pursuit of living a more fulfilling life. There are plenty of reasons to feel proud of being Hispanic. Let’s celebrate diversity within the Hispanic culture!
Maria Alayza is an AACTE Holmes Scholar and a doctoral student in counselor education at Florida Atlantic University.