Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thorny Journey by Maritza M. Mejia

FAU - Share Your Story -

Thorny Journey 
by Maritza M. Mejia

After decades of trying to obtain a professional degree not only in my native country, but also in the United States, it has become a thorny journey in my life. I recognize that titles do not make professionals, but professionals need the title to receive recognition and respect. 

During my twenties, due to economic factors in Colombia, I was not able to study for the career I wanted ever since I finished high school; instead, I studied for a technical degree, Commerce and Languages, for which I thankfully obtained a scholarship. Later, during my thirties, I decided to accomplish my dream in Florida, thanks to my husband who provided the money I needed to start the career I have wanted since my teenage years. I successfully graduated with highest honors and obtained an Associate of Arts degree in Travel Industry Management. However, when I tried to finish my Bachelor of Arts degree at FIU, it was impossible to coordinate classes and be a full-time mother and wife. For that reason, I postponed my studies for a decade. As a result, now, in my forties, I have to work as a paraprofessional due to the unfinished degree. 

One day, someone at work yelled at me: "You are just a paraprofessional!… Those words had a profound impact on my life, but also I realized I needed to finish my career in order to be called "professional." I know that titles do not make professionals, and it sounds silly, but you never know how some words can influence the destiny of one's life. I am totally sure the person who criticized me a few years ago because of my professional background had no intention to send me back to school. Subsequently, I decided to start a long journey to pursue my bachelor's degree in Tourism. 

My journey began with my decision to apply to Florida Atlantic University (FAU). I needed to submit transcripts from previous institutions, my high school diploma, all of those documents with official translation and evaluation from approved offices in the United States. The admission process, which I consider important and necessary, was not only tedious work, but also extremely hard to accomplish. Fortunately, I did not give up! It took me six months to obtain all the paperwork from my country, plus cover all the high expenses and fees to accomplish the first milestone of enrollment. But it was not enough! 

The second step was to complete 15 credit hours in general knowledge classes in any department in order to be able to enter FAU. I could not understand the reasons that Admissions gave me because I graduated in Florida from a community college. In addition, I was incredibly overwhelmed to have yet to complete all those credits; however, I did not give up. I enrolled for the first time in my life to take two online classes in order to finish as fast I could, yet, it did not turn out as I planned. 

Unfortunately, I failed my first online class. It was an introduction to biology based on weekly study guides, on issues not covered in the textbook and a final exam that took me three hours to complete in front of the computer without any break. The only time that I was brave enough to enter to the discussion board to ask the professor why the study guides were not related to the text, he did not answer my question; instead he replied, "Do you need something else? It is late, I need to go to sleep." It was 9:45 p.m., the only time I was able to study after my children were asleep. I ended the communication without any explanation. But I did not give up! 

Encountering someone like him did not make me quit. I repeated the class with the same teacher; I needed to prove to myself that I was able to overcome obstacles. Finally, I got my 15 credits, which granted me the opportunity and privilege to enter Florida Atlantic University to finish my Bachelor of Arts degree – but it was not enough! 

The third step was to declare my major, which was Tourism. I started classes in spring 2008 and soon realized it would be impossible for me to travel to the Boca Raton campus. For that reason, I decided to change my major to Education and take classes at the Treasure Coast Campus, close to home. Education is an area I like, but I still needed to take pre-requisite courses, and take upper-level courses in Education. That combination would make my life very difficult to coordinate with my children's school hours and family needs. Nonetheless, I tried my best to accommodate those schedules, and I ventured into the education field with an excellent instructor, Dr. Ariza, and a great advisor, Mr. Gilbert, who advised me not to give up. At the end, it was very inconvenient to continue in the Education field. Nevertheless, I decided not to renounce my dream, but to register in the Interdisciplinary Studies: Arts and Humanities program. Now, I am taking any class available in any subject area until I complete the credits to obtain an undergraduate degree. I know one day I will reach my dream! 

During fall 2008, it was my first time taking classes on campus. I was totally fascinated and scared at the same time at the idea of being a junior student in my forties, but I did not give up pursuing my dream. I tried my best to follow all directions and study as hard as everybody else half my age. I was fortunate to have Mrs. Calhoun as a teacher; she not only helped me gain confidence, but also I was able to succeed in her language arts class. It was not easy, but not impossible to earn an A. Nevertheless, the joy was short; I hit another red light: my transcripts were giving me problems again. The translation and evaluations were complex and hard to translate. As a result, I cannot continue my studies until I finish a one-credit lab as a college requirement. I stopped my plans for summer until I completed the biology lab. My husband decided to drive me to Broward College twice a week for three hours each round trip, but after six weeks, we accomplished the one-credit science lab goal. 

I went back to FAU to continue my studies in fall 2009 and spring 2010. Fortunately, I took two classes with Mrs. Hayden, an excellent art and music teacher who guided me well in all academic projects, as well as Mrs. Svetlana, who gave me assurance in the TESOL classes. Then I continued with writing classes over summer 2010. My expectations were so high, but the reality pushed me down to realize no matter how hard I try, there is always an obstacle regarding my lack of enough vocabulary or childish English or even complaints about my accent. Happily, in fall 2010 and spring and summer 2011, I took my last classes in Women's Studies with Professor Grossman, Dr. Njambi, Dr. Mancini and Dr. White, who gave me the courage to keep facing my challenges until the end and beyond. I am not the only woman who has gone through this "thorny journey," as I learned from their lectures about women's struggles and oppression in all times. 

The achievements for the duration of my college years erase all thorns I could experience: I participated in the ENLACE Florida Conferences in 2009 and 2010, plus I wrote and published my memoir in 2010 and in April 2011 I was a panelist at an event sponsored by the Florida Consortium for Women's Studies. My story will have a happy ending on my graduation day during the summer 2011 ceremonies, and this long path will have meaning in the lives of those who supported me until the end, especially my husband, son and daughter. 

Maritza Martinez Mejia 
College of Arts and Humanities


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