A Crisis At Home While Abroad

fullsizerender-8In my first blog post, I explained how I got to SPP and why I wanted to leave my city in Venezuela so badly; however, what I didn’t mention is why my parents wanted me to leave just as much as I did.

I would love to explain to you more in depth the roots of my nation’s issues, but as a person who deplores politics (probably because of my experience), I don’t feel like a have a voice in this matter; however, I can tell you what it was like living under such regime.

These past few years have been of profound crisis for my country; inflation increases daily -sometimes even 500% within a week. There’s scarcity of every product you can think of, and I dare to call it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Luckily, my family has not been as heavily affected as other unfortunate families, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share the pain.

Years ago, I remember people being so happy you could always feel a kind and zealous vibe around, but these last two years specially, crisis reached its brink and people are simply miserable.

As inflation keeps rising, people don’t have any money of actual value to buy anything. You see them wandering in the streets looking for something to eat inside garbage bags, you see them desperately waiting for a mango to fall from its enormous tree, you see them starving to death. And when they can actually afford products, they form interminable lines under the 104 °F sun hitting right at you; all the wait so when they actually enter the supermarket everything is gone. Two years ago my mom picked me up at 3am from a party, and on my way home I still remember looking at hundreds, maybe thousands of people already lined up outside the market waiting for it to open the next day. “It is absurd,” I said to my mom, but then she replied, “Vale, in times of crisis and need people behave irrationally to find a way to survive.”

I guess she was right, but a lot of them also supported the government during the elections, so watching them lose their dignity caused me more anger than sadness.

But anyways, other than our economy, when we are not dying from starvation, we are getting killed in the streets. Human lives became so incredibly worthless for criminals; it is not good enough for them to just steal from you, they have the urge to also kill you.

My parents feared my stay in Venezuela; I was in too much danger so they sent me here, but that did not take any of my preoccupation away. Weeks ago my country became an official dictatorship, and our citizens have been protesting ever since, but it only makes me more and more psychotic about what will happen. What has been the beginning of May for me? I have nightmares that wake me up in the dawn at least once a week. I know that the impression I give at school is of a very happy and positive person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not being internally consumed.

I might be theoretically out of danger here in the U.S. but knowing that my family is still there, taking every risk I am avoiding, keeps me from evading the fear, anxiety, and pain anyway. Honestly, do you want to know why I came here? I was pushed away by the government from the most beautiful land and people I’ve ever seen who have now turned miserable and mediocre by the evil in power. The thing I hope the most right now is for the government to finally be overthrown by the protesters today and go back to my home tomorrow and happily read headlines in every newspaper “Millions of Venezuelans all around the world go back to their home land.”

A Step Forward

fullsizerender-8By current SPP student Valeria from Venezuela

Since 8th grade, I’ve been looking forward to graduation day; to finally step out of school and enter college; to study things I care about, and to surpass the limitations I was given in my previous schools. However, in senior year I felt different.

“You’re too immature, Valeria. Too immature, too young, and too dependent on your parents for you to leave to college,” a little voice whispered inside my head.

During the first two months of my stay in St. Paul, I was struck with the realization I was not prepared to enter this new phase of my life. It all started at the beginning of the first semester last fall. The story goes a little something like this:

I was clueless as to what university I wanted to go to, nostalgic of my family and culture, out of my elements in class, dispirited in my only A.P course, and consumed by preoccupation over standardized testing for colleges. The weight of my responsibilities kept sinking me to the bottom as I drowned on my own. I had never struggled in my life without having someone to make it better, as I grew up in a collectivist culture. For quite a while, I thought that I had lost that here, until one day as I sat alone studying for the SAT, one of my teachers took the initiative to help me out a little. Every day that I sat down with him, I sighed of relief; his sincere willingness to help me without receiving anything in return was heart-warming. His advice not only brought tranquility to my soul, but gave me strength to stay persistent. I was no longer alone.

In addition, later on Vicky came into my life. I had gone to our school counselor Ms. Hill several times, however what I wanted her to do for me would have required the use of too much of her time, considering that she had to guide 63 other seniors (some that might be even more lost than me in such a labyrinth).

Ms. Hill, being the consummate professional that she is, sensed I was lost at sea, and so she reined me in back to shore. She gave me a small, fairly mundane, contact card with the name “Vicky” sprawled in simple black lettering (little did I know the impact that small, mundane card would have on my college search). Vicky is a former SPP counselor and Advanced English Composition teacher who left her teaching job for a job as a lawyer; still, she spends her free time helping students in my situation.

I still had a sea of colleges to pick and choose from, and yet the question remained, where would I really fit in? Which one would have the best broadcast journalism program? Which one would have the biggest diversity of cultures? Which one this? Which one that? Which one? Vicky helped me figure all this out by making me form my own conclusions.

I had to re-start my college search, only this time with her there, over my shoulder guiding me. To be frank, I was irritated that I’d have to start the search process all over again from scratch, but looking back it was probably the best thing that I could have done. When I was on my own, I let my own bias for big name schools get in the way of what I was really looking for, and began to apply to colleges that offered a curriculum I did not even want or would not even be helpful for my desired career.

Can you imagine? Going to a college I don’t like, far away from my family and home (which was a sacrifice I guess I was willing to make) and coping with the stress of college life who knows how. I was well on my way to imploding because of how unprepared I was for college, the concept of adult independence was still new to me and I wouldn’t have an altruistic teacher to guide me anymore. Thanks to Vicky, all the self-destruction was spared.

Vicky also made me understand the one thing that kept on adding weight on my shoulders. This whole time, I had been looking for some sort of emotional shelter within my Host Family and I failed in my attempts. I told Vicky the story of how I couldn’t find emotional comfort with them, and she said, “Valeria, you cannot go to a hardware store and expect to buy raisins, you have to go to a grocery store for that. What you are looking for is something they might not be able to provide you with, because they are simply not used to it. There will be other people, like your teacher, that will make your experience unique and fascinating, leaving a mark in your heart.”

And she was right, I was looking in the wrong places. My Host Family had been great, but they were not the ones that would give me the affection and support I craved. Emotionally, the burden was off my back as I stopped making my Host Family into something they were not: my actual family or any Venezuelan. I finally understood I couldn’t force them to act like my culture does.

A month later, I was in Ashburn, Virginia spending Christmas with my family and finally finishing my college applications. All the stress was gone, but something was still aching. Was I really satisfied with my decisions?…I think I wasn’t.

I left my father’s family living in Ashburn for a few days to visit my mother’s sister in Washington D.C. Her name is Carmen Beatriz, but I always called her Aunty Triz. I hadn’t seen her in years because Venezuela’s situation forced her (along with many other relatives and friends) to leave me. We had a great time together, but the clock was ticking and it was time for me to go back to Ashburn.

As we were getting closer and closer to Ashburn, anxiety kept taking over me and when I had to say goodbye I shattered. That’s what had been bugging me this whole time. Ever since September all the way to that cold night in December, I realized I was unsatisfied because I will never be able to live in peace If I am away from the warm people I love and the culture that shaped every aspect of my personality. Although the Universities I applied to were the best options when it came to the education they would provide; wasn’t my personal happiness a huge factor to consider as well? I never thought about it because I did not think it was a thing that would bother me. I had always been a happy person, but I wasn’t in the culture that I’m from; the one that truly brings me internal peace and enamors me more each day of my existence.

That night was a massive paradox to me, I was broken and cured. It cleared my blurred vision and I realized what I’d wanted this whole time: great education near my family. What a better place for that than Colombia? The most similar country to Venezuela that offers me infinite opportunities and a near location to my precious home. Today, I see clearly what I want, and feel immensely grateful for my teacher, who will always have a place in my heart, Vicky, and my school SPP. Without them I would have made the wrong decisions and postponed my happiness and inner serenity. Moreover, SPP, its passionate staff, and my experience with them taught me how to manage my time, control stress, work hard independently, but most importantly prepare me for the next phase of my life.

Introducing: Guest Blogger Aleksander

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Aleksander at the 2015 SPP Spring Talent Show.

Dzień dobry, cześć i czołem! My name is Aleksander and I graduated from SPP two years ago!

I will be a temporary guest writer on the SPP blog. I have some good stuff for you that will be released over the next few weeks. Please follow this blog not to miss a post from me!

What will my posts be about?

My take on life in US of A. Why did I choose a school in Minnesota over one in Florida? How it feels to be a part of SPP? (Go Falcons!). What can you do after your senior year in Minnesota? Friendship with a teacher that used to teach you?

I gotta say – I am incredibly happy that this opportunity was given to me and that I can write something for the SPP Blog.

In the meantime, if you want to get to know me better before I post more here, follow me on Twitter @AJWRSW.

Have a nice day,

Aleksander Jess

P.S. A shout-out for Sheila Stormont for being the most awesome teacher that I have ever met. As I said during my talent show performance, “Let’s turn it up to 11”.

SPP: A Matter of Fate

Coming to St. Paul Prep (SPP) was my fate. A lot of people don’t believe in destiny and call it “coincidence,” but whatever it was, it gave a twist to my life. I had different plans before coming here. In fact, I didn’t know about the school’s existence until August 2016, one month before flying to America. Originally, I was going to study in one of the best schools in Boston. I had already discussed my specific case with the school, had found a Host Family, and even had my ticket reserved, but due to visa and school inconveniences, I had to let that dream fade away and stay in Venezuela.

Having to hear “You’re staying,” was one of the toughest things, and I refused to believe it. I seriously disliked my school in Venezuela because they taught me nothing, and I felt like my parents were simply wasting their money in what had been promised to be the best school in my city. However, as much as this news dragged me down, I had to embrace the fact that I had no other option, be grateful for what I have, and understand that everything happens for a reason.

It wasn’t my destiny to go to Boston because it was my fate to discover the Twin Cities.

A week before my 11th grade was over, I decided to go visit my aunt the same day my mom was flying to Caracas (Venezuela’s capital city). I wasn’t supposed to go with her, and I didn’t even know what time her flight was, but for some unknown reason (because I usually don’t spend much time in my house) I decided to go back home to watch a movie with my little sister.

When I was driving back, I stumbled upon my mom by “coincidence” and thought “Well, accompanying her to the airport wouldn’t hurt me, and I won’t see her in a while, so talk to her and ask her to wait for you while you dropped off the car at the house,” and so she did.

When we got to the airport, my friend Kike happened to be in there as well. Kike is one of those old friends whom you stopped hanging out with a while ago, yet the friendship remained the same. I greeted him with a warm hug, asked him how he was, and where he was going. He told me he was going to Caracas for a meeting with Students Program, an exchange student organization that is affiliated with another organization named Nacel. I felt excited for him, especially because I had also planned to do my senior year in the U.S., but it wasn’t possible, I told him. We continued talking when he finally said: “You can email the organization, and they can find you an international school that will give you a high school diploma.”

In that moment, I became deaf to every single individual in the room. I could not believe it. Here was my last chance to (as sad as it sounds) escape my disastrous school situation in Venezuela. I hushed Kike and ran to find my mom and tell her this news. Her flight had already arrived so there was not much time to talk to her, but odds were in my favor: Kike’s mom’s seat on the plane was next to my mom’s. They spent the entire flight discussing the benefits of this program they had just introduced to us, and as the plane landed in Caracas, my mom called my dad.

We had a few meetings with the program, and three weeks later, I began this journey to SPP.cropped-cropped-sam_9946.jpg

A Month in Congress

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Yasameen from Afgahnistan, a junior at St. Paul Preparatory School was awarded 2nd place for her outstanding artwork last year at the Betty McCollum Congressional Art Competition. She continues to create artwork focusing on the politics of her home country, Afghanistan. In early January 2014, Yasameen and SPP art teacher Ms. Kate Woolever wrote a letter to Congresswoman Betty McCollum explaining Yasameen’s passion for politics and her long-term goal to bring peace and education to her country. Ms. Kate Woolever asked if Yasameen could intern with the congresswomen to learn the ins and outs of her professional life. Days later, a letter returned accepting her request. The letter explained that this type of internship was not the norm, as they usually do not accept high school interns; however, Yasameen stood out to them and seemed to be full of great potential.

Excitedly, Yasameen began her first day interning at the congresswoman’s office in early January. She went two days a week, her tasks varied from working with their IQ system, monitoring emails from community members, researching information about congress, having discussions with staff members about their responsibilities, assisting and shadowing each member in the office and much more. “I learned how much hard work, patience, respect, and teamwork goes into working in politics” Yasameen explained. “It was so fun to be a part of this environment and even though there was a lot to do, the staff seemed to be good friends who truly enjoyed their jobs.”



Yasameen reflects on the end of her time there “My last day was a very bittersweet time; everyone in the office came together and threw me a party! Accompanying some tasty treats, Congresswoman McCollum personally gave her a leather portfolio case with all their contact information inside, a gold congressional token, and a letter Betty McCollum personally wrote. “I couldn’t believe how welcoming and accepting each employee was towards me!” Yasameen explained. “They didn’t treat me as a student but as another respected staff member. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I know it will be my foundation as I continue to work towards my goals in bringing peace to my country.”

– Kate Woolever-Martinez, Art Teacher

Learn more about our Internship program, arts, and other college and life preparatory opportunities at St. Paul Prep on our website.

A Traditional Chinese New Year

An SPP Student tells about her Chinese New Year traditions back home…

 

Chinese New Year is the most important festivity for the Chinese people. It is also called the “Spring Festival” or the “Lunar New Year.”

The most important part of the Chinese New year is that the people who are working or have jobs very far away from their hometown go back to their family before the New Year’s Eve. All family members should be together and have a grand family reunion dinner.

About the food:

We make dumplings on the Chinese New Year Eve. It is one of the traditional foods. It means people will have an auspicious new year. Fish is always part of the dinner because it presents abundance. We have different foods to celebrate the Chinese New Year. In the south of China, people always make spring rolls, but in the north of our country, people will make noodles, dumplings, or New Year cakes.

Lucky money:

To all the children, “lucky money” is the best part of Chinese New Year. They go to visit their relatives and say “Happy New Year” to the elders. They will always get a red packet [that contains money]. The lucky money is given from elders. It means they wish the young kids to have a good year, be healthy and have good grades.

My favorite part:

For me, there are the most important parts of the Chinese Happy New Year: Being with all my family and getting lucky money. Preparing to have a good and fresh new year. Being successful in the next year.

– Xin Qi (Althea) Song, Student from China

A Student Glimpse into a Lunar New Year

An SPP Student tells of his traditions back home for the Lunar New Year:

 

“Back home we play with firecrackers/fireworks on the last day of January. You have food with your own family; every family member should be together. After that day, we will visit [our relatives]. Children usually get red envelopes ‘Hong Bao’ with money in them. They give this money [in a red] because in the ancient times they believed there is a monster that is afraid of big noise and anything that is red. The monster is called “Nian,” the meaning of this is “year.” When the Nian got away that signified that the year has passed and it will be a new year.

This year here in America, he celebrated very differently…

“First we went to the Mall of America. Then with my friends we had a big dinner at the Grand Sichuan, there were 28 Chinese students from our school.”

– Bob, SPP Student