Felipe Hernandez: Marshall Scholarship Winner, Blog #3

A World-Wide Community

I never thought I would be here today. As the first to attend college in my family, the hurdles seemed endless. After graduating from UCI, the road was full of endless possibilities but also uncertainties.

During the Marshall Scholarship orientation process, I kept my experiences at UCI close to heart. I remembered how nervous I was when I first arrived to UCI but also how amazing it felt when I graduated. I knew that these next two years would be similar. In two years, I would become the first person in my family, including extended family, to obtain a master’s degree.

I’ll be honest, I was seriously considering deferring or forgoing the Marshall. I had just finished my year as a Senate Fellow in California and I was not too sure about how I would do in the UK. I did not think I would be able to do well. Honestly, I felt like I would not belong. These were some of the same feelings I felt when I first came to UCI. Over the years, I’ve learned that the reasons for these feelings and thoughts are complex but common among first-generation students like myself. However, I kept on looking for excuses to not accept the Marshall. I would be thousands of miles away from my family once again and they relied on me for help. While they still struggled with accessing basic services and navigating the US as immigrants, I would be away traveling and attending school. I couldn’t help but feel guilty.

I even contacted the Marshall Scholarship Commission and asked them about deferment possibilities. I reached out to everyone I knew but no one affirmed my self-doubt. Instead, my friends and mentors all endorsed the decision to accept the Marshall. They all reinforced the idea that these next two years would be an incredibly rare opportunity to learn, travel, and grow. It is because of this community of mentors, friends, and family that I decided to stay with the Marshall. Like at UCI, a community of support is what would help me get through these next two years.

At orientation, I was nervous. It did not take long for the conversations to quickly become academic with a slight tinge of competitiveness. Immediately, I felt like I did not know nearly as much as the other scholars and the feelings of insecurity crept in. However, I soon found out that the other Marshalls were just as nervous as I was but everyone coped with their nerves in a different way. I was silent; others talked endlessly. After we all realized that everyone was just as nervous and excited, everyone let their guard down and started talking like old friends. Though our narratives were different, we all had a similar vision: to take these next two years to figure out how to make a positive impact in the world within our respective fields. At the end of the orientation process our community spirit blossomed and we were in this together.

When we arrived in London to complete our orientation the feeling was surreal. It then finally hit me that I would be in the UK for next two years of my life. Aside from leaving sunny California for the cold and gloomy UK weather, I constantly kept asking myself if I had made the right decision. I was preoccupied with thoughts of my family. Again, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I had this incredible opportunity while they were still struggling to deal with various problems most immigrant families face. They were the reason why I went to UCI, to help them deal with these problems. My family was also a part of this Marshall journey and would also be making an emotional sacrifice. Though they did not understand the significance of the scholarship, they did understand that these next two years would be difficult for all of us. These are feelings that I am still dealing with today even as I write this blog.

When I arrived to Bristol the energy of the city was amazing. We were welcomed with great esteem and community. Once I started my course, life started coming together. My classmates were from all over the world, had inspiring stories to tell, and were incredibly thankful for being here. I was too. They were also nervous being away from home (some for the first time in their lives). Another community was formed. The best part of experience has been befriending these folks and learning from their experiences.

At the same time, the program is amazing! I am deeply engaging with issues of social justice, empowerment, and activism in education for students from marginalized backgrounds within the context of my previous work in Irvine, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Colombia. The opportunity to focus entirely on something that you love is rare and well worth the sacrifices. As I reached out to the Bristol student community, I came across amazing people. I’ve joined various societies including the expedition society which ventures out for weekend trips around the UK national parks. Being outdoors free from daily distractions and tasked with climbing/hiking mountains brings people together. We all share our stories as we hike and form a community of outdoor explorers who climb regardless of the rain and freezing cold weather (especially for a Californian).

I also happened to come into Bristol as the Mayoral elections for the city ramped up. I immediately reached out and I am now working on the Mayor’s reelection campaign. This has given me a unique perspective into the politics and government of the UK and Bristol. This is a great opportunity to make a meaningful impact, especially since the campaign team is only made up of four people (tiny in comparison to the US). I have also met incredible people in the community and I am learning a lot about the lives of Bristolians. I have drawn many parallels to my family’s and community’s experience in Los Angeles. As I’ve learned before from traveling, human beings are the same in the sense that one of their main priorities is providing the best for their families, themselves, and their community. Bristol’s diverse community has reinforced this. My conversations with Bristolians from wealthier areas to low-income neighborhoods have reaffirmed this perspective. For me, getting involved in politics in Bristol has been an unexpectedly life-changing experience.

Another exceptional and amazing opportunity has been traveling around (pretty cheaply) and meeting people from different regions of the world. As one travels, the world becomes your community and those in it become like family. Soon one cares for those communities as one’s own and for those in it as if they were family.

Community is what keeps me going. From my time in Colombia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to working in Sacramento as a CA Senate Fellow to pursing two master’s degrees in the UK, none of this would have been possible without a strong and diverse community supporting in Los Angeles, UC Irvine, and around the world. Though I greatly miss my family, tacos in LA, and the beautiful sunny weather, I constantly count my blessings to be here.

My message to my fellow anteaters, particularly if you’re a first-generation student, is: accomplishing your goals will be difficult emotionally and physically, sometimes seemingly impossible, but always keep at heart your community for that will be your driving force. Also, whether you think you have your life figured out or have no clue what comes next, embrace every possible experience that comes your way in a positive light.

 

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Marshall Scholars Family Thanksgiving dinner.

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Felipe’s adventure in Morocco.

 

 

 

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