EXPANDING WORLD VIEWS. IT’S THE WASHINGTON WAY.
A WORLD OF OPPORTUNITY How GO-MAP and a Bonderman Travel Fellowship enriched the life of a first-generation Chicana
PH OT O C OUR T ESY R OCIO ME NDOZA
By ROCIO MENDOZA
If someone would have told me five years ago, while attending and commuting 14 miles from La Puente to California State University, Fullerton, that I would soon move out of state for graduate school and then travel the world alone after graduating, I would have laughed. But that is exactly what I did. Attending the University of Washington’s Prospective Student Days, a recruitment event sponsored by the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP), had a great influence on my decision to attend the UW for graduate school. It was during this weekend that I had the opportunity to meet several supportive faculty, staff and graduate students of color from various departments on campus. I can recall what a staff member said during that weekend: “Look around you. Now you might not see this diversity in your classroom, but know that you are not alone on this campus.” This was comforting to hear; and it reminded me that no matter how far I would be from my friends and family, I could find a supportive community anywhere—and that is what I found through GO-MAP. So, I was ready to venture out and start a new chapter in Seattle. Of course, selling this idea to my parents, as the oldest daughter of four, who had never been away from home for longer than a month (and even then it was to spend time with family in my parents’ hometown in Jalisco, Mexico) was a difficult task. It was a bittersweet time for my parents; on the one hand, they were proud to see the first in the family to graduate from high school, from college and now pursue a graduate degree. But on the other hand, their first-born was going to be far away from home. In the end, of course, my parents were very supportive of my decision and were excited for my next move.
Living in Seattle with the constant rain and gloom was a definite adjustment from sunny Southern California; I was terribly homesick and for some reason, none of my home-cooked food (not even my guisados, ni mi olla de frijoles) quite had the smell or taste of my mom’s meals. I must admit, however, that the weather in Seattle is ideal for graduate work and for spending countless hours in a coffee shop. Eventually, through the College of Education and GO-MAP, I began to reach out to new friends, advisers and mentors that led me to a richer and more meaningful experience in graduate school and in Seattle. During my last year at UW, I received the Bonderman Travel Fellowship, a $20,000 award to travel around the world alone for eight months. Once again, my parents were terrified at the idea that I would be on my own, thousands of miles away. However, my experience moving to Seattle (including dealing with culture shock), definitely prepared all of us mentally and emotionally for undertaking that trip. Two months after earning my master's degree in Educational Leadership in Policy Studies in June 2008, I was on a plane to Tokyo, where I began my 10-month journey. Traveling alone, as a woman of color, witnessing extreme poverty around the world, and being constantly reminded of the privilege that I held, was life altering. The lessons and perspectives I gained through this trip now influence my work with firstgeneration high school students as a coordinator of an Upward Bound Program in East Los Angeles. It is so powerful to see students’ eyes light up when I share my stories about college, graduate school and traveling. What is even more powerful is that the students, as well as my younger siblings, can now imagine the world of opportunities a college degree can offer from a Chicana’s first-hand experience.