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College Beat

Opportunity and Success.

By Berlin Victoria Mendez Gonzalez.
Coe College, 2017

I was raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. In fifth grade, I learned that the validity of a professional degree in Mexico is often not recognized globally. I realized that, in the future, if I wanted to have the option of pursuing a career abroad, I should earn my degree in the United States.

At 15 years old, I left my hometown and family to attend high school in Grapevine, Texas. I traveled with the hope that having a high school diploma in the U.S. would increase my chances of obtaining college scholarships. After two years of incredible physical, emotional, and mental struggle, I graduated high school and embarked on an entirely new adventure.

Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, became my new home. Diversity, curiosity, and adventure were found anywhere I looked. Most of my social time was spent with international students, because I felt a very strong connection with them. We were all strangers in a strange land who struggled with learning the language and customs while seeking opportunity and success. I would dare to say that the best part of my entire college experience was the chance to learn in abundance about various cultures and teach others about mine. College is where I felt a real sense of independence for the first time in my life. I had no age limitations; I could express my opinions, ask questions, and take care of all my personal responsibilities such as health and banking freely. I could truly thrive in this environment like none before and I took full advantage of it.

At Coe, I had amazing professors and research opportunities, which fed my passion for the neuroscience field. I packed my semesters with science classes, ignoring my professors’ and classmates’ advice. They said it was too much work and although that was true, I absolutely loved every second of it.

I participated in numerous research projects during my college career. For a semester I went to Tennessee to do research in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. However, my favorite project was doing research on spinal cord regeneration using Axolotls (endemic salamander species of Mexico) as an animal model. There is nowhere I am happier and more at ease than a laboratory setting.

Maddie Baise and Berlin Mendez. Freshmen year rommates at college graduation, May 2017.

Maria, Berlin, Herfrank, Aminah, and Marissa at the International Student Welcome Dinner. 2014.

Despite my lack of financial resources and constantly having two or three jobs while in school, I graduated from college this past May with majors in Neuroscience, Biology, and Psychology. This fall I will pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Iowa. I hope to continue conducting research in Molecular Neuroscience and one day become a great professor like the ones I was lucky to have at Coe College.

The path has been soul-crushingly rough. Obstacles are found at every turn; especially when you are an immigrant Latina with no family near you or people who have experienced your situation to help you. Fortunately, I have stumbled upon many individuals and whole families who have been generous in giving me affection and offering to help me with things like a ride to the doctor or a place to sleep in. I owe them the world and I consider them family. I am proud of my roots and I strive to make my roots proud of me.

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  • Jane Foster

    Great and Inspiring story!