Struggling with the English language would not stop career dreams
For years Esbeida Valencia was content to be a stay-at-home mom to her and husband, Antonio’s four children. With her children growing less dependent, circumstances were lining up to allow her to pursue her long-held dream to become a Medical Assistant. College was the step she would have to take to make that happen.
Daughter, Beyoncé (17), was completing her junior year of high school through home-study and was able to watch Matias (3). Anthony (18) and Genesis (9) could manage just fine during the time Esbeida was in class.
But another obstacle loomed large in Esbeida’s thoughts. “My English is not really good,” she says. Her insecurity about her inability to communicate very well made her hesitant. The thought of being in a classroom brought up those inhibitions. “I’m a shy person, so for me it’s really hard to communicate. And, when I get shy, I get red. I don’t like that part of me.”
She was also concerned about being an older student. At thirty-eight Esbeida would likely be in class with mostly twenty-somethings. Could she keep up, relate to classmates and find her voice there?
Esbeida’s medical career dream took root years earlier when she had her older daughter and was so alone in the hospital. Only her husband was able to visit. “I had no family here, so no one came to see me.”
Her nurse came to her rescue. “She was so sweet and kind, and she made me feel special,” says Esbeida. “She was always there talking to me. She would even lay down with me on the bed. I never forgot about what she did.”
Esbeida knew that was the kind of sensitivity she would provide her patients, if she could ever have that chance.
That chance was now. Her family was behind her all the way.
Esbeida searched the internet and found SJVC’s Delano campus, which was very close to her home. She scheduled an appointment and went, alone, to find out if college was possible for her.
Esbeida was very motivated to make going back to school work. Not only did she want to provide sensitive care to future patients, she wanted to help Antonio provide for their family. “When both husband and wife work, they can help each other. I wanted to help my husband support our family.”
Just a few weeks later she was sitting in her first class.
There was the initial shock of “Oh my God, my English is not really good and I’m not going to do it,” she says. “The first day when I got there I was crying. Why did choose to go back to school?”
She talked herself down from the ledge of possible failure and catastrophe. “I’m the person, when I say ‘yes’, I’m not going back on it; I’m going forward.”
It took just a few days for her positive attitude to pay off. “This was not as hard as I was thinking,” she reassured herself. Her excitement started to build.
And that concern about being older? “I enjoyed working with other students, even thought they were a lot younger than me,” says Esbeida. “I was kind of like ‘mama’ to some of the younger girls. They would never stop talking to me. Some were more quiet, some would tell their problems.”
Esbeida was surprised at how much she was learning. “When I got into the Medical Assisting program, I didn’t know nothing about what I’m going to be learning,” she says. “I just went through everything I had to do. I would work hard for it.”
Every 5-week module brought something new and interesting into her world. “The class was all working together when we had the venipuncture or injections,” she says. Needles – injecting classmates and drawing blood – can bring people together quickly. “It was fun because I had the chance to get closer to them and to laugh. Going to college is not boring; you have your fun time, too.”
Some parts were more challenging. “It was learning the computer stuff that was hard for me,” says Esbeida. “Doing Excel was a struggle because I didn’t have the experience. But, I’m really glad I took the class because I learned things I never imagined I would be doing.”
Her career dream was coming into focus. She could see pulling all these new patient skills, behaviors and communication tools into practice. She was already thinking about where she might demonstrate her new areas of expertise.
Esbeida’s student externship took her into an environment where many had given up on any dreams they might have had for education, family, a life lived fully. The State prison held many broken pieces of lives that might have been. It was a place where someone like Esbeida could help make a difference. When she completed her program, she would apply for a full-time position there.
She immersed herself in her last few weeks of school, trying to focus on a strong academic ending.
Esbeida tried not to think too much about those things she could not control. “When you’re away, you think about your kids. If something happened to my kids, what would I do? I’m always thinking like that.”
Her children may have been her greatest worry, but they were also her greatest inspiration to keep going. “First, I want to set an example for my kids. I tell my kids, ‘You have English; you have everything you need to go to college’.”
She may have set a little better example than she intended. Near the completion of her studies, Esbeida discovered she had a perfect 4.0 GPA. On the final day of school, after completing her last test, she was asked to be her Medical Assisting program’s Class Valedictorian. “I was so excited that I think I would have said ‘Yes’ to anything.
The first in her family to attend college, Esbeida was proud of that honor she would carry at graduation.
She is also in an even better position to give good advice. “I want to send a message to those people who don’t want to go back to school. Instead of spending money on a car or something else, spend it on college, because investing in the future is better than getting stuck. When you finish college and start working, then you can buy things.”
It’s good advice from someone who as a mother of four who was not confident in speaking English and had not been in a classroom in many years, set those fears aside. “Believe in yourself and things are going to get better.”
Spoken like a true mama.
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