What to Expect When Starting College

College: the next big step you will remember for the rest of your life. It’s different, exciting, stressful, but also beautiful. It’s where you will start learning about yourself and the world. You will discover people that are like you, experience things you never thought you would, but will also more than likely be scared during the process. Don’t worry, chica, I got you. These are the three top things I wish someone would have told me when I started college.

Peer Pressure
Movies, social media, memes, and shows portray the average college life to be full of drinking and partying, but that isn’t always the case. Yes, you will be asked to go out, and you should once in a while, but never feel like you have to. Never feel that to be accepted you need to drink and be this crazy party animal. There are many college students, including me, who prefer to stay in on a Saturday night to watch a movie while enjoying the company of friends. You will be surprised to know that the older you get, the more you prefer to have little gatherings with friends than to be this super-wild-let’s-go-out-all-the-time person. Don’t believe what movies portray. College isn’t about partying.

Classes and Social Life
When I started college I thought it was great that I only had a class twice a week. I told myself I would make straight A’s, study a couple of hours, and then head out to Chipotle with my girls. Yeah, keeping up with classes was ridiculous. College classes are completely different from high school, especially when you’re a freshman. Most of your classes will have 50 or more people, your professor might not ever know your name, and they don’t remind you when something is due. Because of these new classes and the new environment, it’s easy for freshman to lose track of time. Academic probation happens more frequently than you think. Don’t worry though; it’s not the end of world and it’s simple to fix. In order to avoid academic probation, first and foremost: stay on top of your classes! Go to class, do your homework, study, and use a planner. This planner will be your holy grail. Start by writing down the important due dates from the syllabus and calendar in your planner. Also, study groups, tutoring, and just seeing your professor during their office hours can come a long way. Your college wants to help you succeed, so take advantage of your resources. From professors to taking advantage of programs/resources, they will help you learn how to balance school work, work, and your social life.

Homesickness
In the beginning everyone is super excited to go out on his/her own and become their own person without mom or dad being in the way. Slowly, but surely, you will start to realize that you’re tired of dorm food, doing laundry on your own and even miss hearing your mom call your name from across the house. You guessed it: you’re homesick! I felt this drastically when I moved five hours away from home. I missed my mom’s home cooking, my annoying little siblings, and just the smell of my old home. This is totally normal! You’re not alone because everyone experiences this when they’re away from home for the first time. To help get over your homesickness, join a club,or a couple clubs, make it a hobby to learn your mother’s recipes, get into a new hobby, or try fun workout groups at your school’s gym. There are even clubs catered to Latinas or a specific activity (video games, music, cooking, writing, hiking, dancing, etc.). Being involved in school will help you take your mind off of being homesick — plus, you’ll be able to make more friends and have more fun!

College is scary, yes, but once you’re there and get a feel of things, you’ll feel right at home. Though there will be stress and frustrations along the road, the college experience is one you will cherish and hold sacred for the rest of your life.

DIY: Coupon Book & Photography Project

In Costa Rica, Mother’s Day is celebrated on August 15th, also known as the Feast of the Assumption, which, in the Catholic religion, celebrates the rise of the Virgin Mary to heaven. For those in the U.S. and in other Latin American countries, Mother’s Day has passed, but who says you can’t celebrate Mother’s Day more than once? Tell your mamá she’s extra special and deserves to be honored at the same time as Costa Rica!

Coupon Book
Now, I’m not talking about any old store coupon book. I’m talking about a coupon book that you make yourself. This special coupon book will include free favors that your mother would really appreciate. Like washing the dishes, doing the laundry, baby sitting your siblings so your mom can have some alone time, and if you are feeling extra giving, you can even put a free 5 minute foot massage.

Materials

  • You can use flash cards, construction paper, or just normal paper
  • Writing utensils (markers, pens, or even crayons)
  •  Scissors

What to do

For this DIY project, you cut the paper of your choice into rectangles and write something like this:

4

 

Now, if you’re like me, your mother doesn’t speak English, so you can translate with “Dia de la Madre cupon.” You can make as many many coupons as you want, be creative!

 

Photography Project

My mom absolutely loves photographs, and I know that whenever I give her one she always get super excited and happy. What I love doing for my mom is taking a picture months ahead of her birthday or Mothers day, that way when I give her the photo she’ll totally forget about taking that photo and take her by surprise in a beautiful way. Now, this DIY project can be done in a lot of ways, including making a collage of your favorite pictures. Once you have a few photos, go to Wal-Mart, CVS, or Walgreens and print them out. For chicas on a budget, you can also print them out at home. When you’re ready to make a collage, you can make them scrapbook style or something unique like using a clothes hanger:
mom2

To make this DIY project, you will need a clothes hanger, ribbon, hot glue, and a set of pictures. You can use two small ribbons to create like a ladder, or you can use larger ribbons — it’s up to you, chica! Arrange the pictures how you want them on the ribbon, then glue them on, and, when you;re done, tie them to the hanger. Super cute, right?

Revisiting Real Women Have Curves

Real-Women-Have-Curves-(2002)

Revisiting the 2002 hit Real Women have Curves, there are many aspects to this movie that really spoke to me and inspired me greatly. For those not familiar with the movie, it is about a teenage Mexican-American, Ana, conquering Mexican and American social norms. Along the way, she battles family duty and deciding whether she should continue her education.

The main actress, played by America Ferrera, is a first generation Mexican- American living in East Los Angeles. Freshly graduated from high school, Ana’s mother expects her to work in her sisters sewing factory. Her professor though, Mr. Guzman, played by George Lopez, sees a lot of potential in Ana and convinces her to apply for college. Ana goes ahead and gives it a try, but with the knowledge that her family will disapprove of it and not afford it.

As the plot progresses, we can see that she is continually insulted by her mother about her “longas” (flab stomach) and hates working in her sister’s factory, but one unforgettable scene stood out to me while she was there: Ana was getting too hot from the steam of the machines, so she decides to take her top off to cool down. Her mother immediately yelled at her to put her top back on, but Ana ignored her. Instead, she persuaded the other women to take off their tops and to embrace their bodies. This scene shows women of all sizes to be proud of their bodies, and, in this moment, Ana realizes who she is. This one scene is a big realization in the movie and it helps girls realize that a woman is more than her body type. This short scene can really influence a young Latina growing up who is told that the only way to be beautiful is to be thin. Ana proves that this is not true and embraces her appearance.

Seeing a strong, independent Latina get an education, love herself, be smart, and have the courage to move on really just hit home with me. As a young Latina, I never saw anything like this in Americanized television; it was nice seeing someone just like me for a change.

Aside from fighting the norms, Ana’s romantic interest and the way she handled it moved me. Ana has a little romance with a white boy from class. At first she doesn’t even realize that he liked her, but later he asks her on a date. What I found very inspiring and just awesome, is how Ana did go along with the romance and cherished her time with him, but she put her goals first when it was time to go to college.  Ana decides to end things; the way she ended it and why is what I found inspirational. She ended things with him on a good note, and she ended things because she was going to go to college and start life all over again. Way to be independent, Ana!

Through the hardships and being accepted to college with a full scholarship, Ana realizes what every woman should realize: to embrace her body in any shape or form and to follow her dreams. After watching this movie, I was so inspired by Ana and how she took on the world. She became independent and didn’t let her culture, a boy, or even her mother stop her from loving herself and following her dream to go to college.

Every growing Latina should watch this movie. In fact, I wish I had seen this movie when I was fresh out of high school! It really would have changed my outlook in life. Even as a college senior about to graduate, it really inspired me and proved how strong and independent us Latinas can be.

Latina Organization Spotlight: Latina A.R.M.Y.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 1.00.37 AMEveryone deserves to have someone to look up to, to empower them, to give them advice, and to give them courage and strength to help them succeed in anything. A shining example of this type of dedication is the Latina A.R.M.Y organization.

Started in 2009 in Shelton, Connecticut, this non-profit organization strives  “… to celebrate and empower young Latinas by providing inspirational role models and introducing powerful life skills for personal excellence.” Through its La Mariposa program, Latina A.R.M.Y. teaches young girls life skills, such as: Jars – journaling, affirmations, personal rules, and setting goals.

To accomplish the Jars process, role model facilitators help with hands on workshops by giving young Latinas materials, time, and space to help identify and reach her goal. During this process, accomplished Latinas give two hours of their time to speak to the young girls from local schools and communities. During the workshops, the girls are taught at least four life skills with an open-ended question segment. This greatly helps motivate young Latinas to follow their dreams and aspirations. When a young child sees someone who is like them and successful, it makes such an impact on their views of the world and of them.

But without these role models and volunteers, this organization would not be as successful, which is why it is important to volunteer for women and girl orientated organizations. This is how organizations thrive and do something meaningful that will benefit someone greatly. Not only will this look great on resumes and your overall work ethic, you will be helping a fellow Latina in need in life skills, school work, self love, and overall obstacles us Latinas go through in life.

According to the American Association of University Women, Latina girls have a higher high school dropout rate than girls in other racial or ethnic groups and also least likely to earn a college degree. Don’t you want to see a change in this trend? By volunteering and steering these young Latinas in the right direction, you can make such an impact, enough to change this statistic. By just making a difference to one Latinas life, you will start a never-ending chain in which that Latina will pass on the wisdom she received from you onto another Latina in need. To succeed and change this negative statistic, we Latinas have to empower each other and help make a positive change in this world.

DIY Grad Gift: Succulent Painted Tin Can

tin can

What’s something that graduates love to get on their special day? Flowers! But this time, try something different than the usual roses. Succulents. Lately, these little plants have been taking over desks, offices, bedroom, living rooms you name it! And no wonder, since these plants are so easy to take care, last longer than roses, and are super affordable! Now, imagine adding a simple touch with a beautiful tin can for a pot.

Supplies:

  •  A succulent of your choice; they can be found in the gardening aisle of Wal-Mart, Lowes, or Home Depot.
  •  Spray paint of your choice
  •  Succulent potting soil
  •  Rocks
  •  Tin can larger enough for the succulent
  1. First you will begin with the tin can pot. Spray paint the tin can in the color of your choice. Hint: try to paint it to the color scheme of your graduate’s dorm room or her favorite color!
  2. After you painted your can, let it dry for an hour or so until it’s completely dry. Once it’s dry it will be time for the repotting.
  3. Grab your “pot” and fill it with a layer of small pebbles/rocks. Trust me, if you don’t add rocks then the succulent will not live long.
  4. Then, fill the pot with a little bit of succulent potting soil and grab the succulent from its original pot and place it in the pot.
  5. Place more soil in the can, pat down and tighten the soil around the succulent.
  6. Now, add a layer of rocks and there you go!

You can make one or more succulents; they’re inexpensive to make, and can even double as a graduation/dorm decor gift.

Redefining Mental Illness

It’s not physical, it’s not easy to understand, and, most of the time, it’s completely ignored or called “just a phase.” I’m talking about mental illness. In the Latin@ culture, stigma often follows mental illness. Your “abuelita” may have tried to cure your anxiety with home remedies by rubbing an egg all over you to get “el malo ojo” out. Or your tía saying to “get over it” because it’s only a phase. Deep down we know that it’s not that easy to remove what we’re feeling. Everyone has a battle to fight, but, chicas, you’re not alone.

Dealing with Depression

I experienced depression at a young age, but it became more evident in high school. I lost weight, I had no appetite, and I was becoming extremely introverted. The effects of all this led to more serious symptoms, bone pains, insomnia, and stomach cramps. My parents took me to various doctors to “fix” the problem, and the doctors would check my blood and do all kinds of crazy tests. To them, the problem wasn’t there because it was in my head.  Not once did they ask me how I truly felt. I had a boyfriend, I had great friends and a great family, but I just wasn’t happy. I didn’t see a purpose in life.

One day I was even taken to the emergency room due to serious joint pain and stomach cramps. Nothing was found, of course, except that I hadn’t eaten in 2 days. Through frustration my father said it was “all in my head.”  His words hurt me, it hurt a lot. He didn’t understand, but how could he? Growing up in Mexico meant that mental illness didn’t “exist.” I couldn’t blame my parents for not understanding what I was going through.

Depression followed me to college. Episodes happened, sleep was lost, and concentrating on my schoolwork was extremely hard. One day, through extreme insomnia, I made the decision to see a specialist. It was really difficult for me to get to this step in my life, but I knew I had to do something.

I held my rose gold iPhone in my hand, Student Health Center’s phone number on display, but all I could hear in my head was my Tía calling me crazy, saying it was all in my head, or saying this is a result from leaving to college. I was scared of the criticism, but I overcame it and finally made the phone call.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but I felt uneasy about the diagnosis. Self-doubt led to thinking if it was really in my head, and knowing what I had just made me feel more insecure! Luckily, my specialist, a very understanding Hispanic doctor, calmed by nerves by saying to “not feel insecure about this; mental illness is just like any other illness and it should not be considered any less. It’s serious and I’m proud of you for coming in on your own to get help. That’s brave. ”He mentioned how anyone who feels something wrong should always look for help. I was prescribed medicine and I was given techniques for my anxiety. For once, I felt the feeling of being able to concentrate on schoolwork and I could breathe without a bad sigh.

Stigma within the Latin@ Community

Stigma regarding mental illness is fairly common within the Latin@ community.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that lack and/or misunderstanding of information regarding mental health, language barriers,  lack of health insurance and/or legal status, misdiagnosis, homeopathic remedies, privacy concerns, and  religion are some of the leading causes that contribute to being resistant to mental health care, help, etc. In fact, Latinos are “less likely to seek mental health treatment.” This poses a risk since Latinas have higher risks of depression and suicide. A study on depression and anxiety within the Latin@ community by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University found that “First-and second-generation Hispanics/Latinos were significantly more likely to have symptoms of depression than those born outside the U.S. mainland.” Mental health is real, and it should not continue to be stigmatized and treated as if it’s not.

Linda Eguiluz, a graduate from the University of Texas and now a graduate student at Lewis and Clark college, is familiar with dealing with mental health within the Latin@ community. As a graduate student, the pressures of school has led to dealing with anxiety.

“I think [being a Latina has] definitely affected the way I dealt with [anxiety] initially, and sometimes even now. There is no way to disassociate my ethnic identity from my mental illness, and it is a struggle to reconcile the cultural values placed upon me regarding mental health.”

“I know it is not an easy task to confront our own mental illness when we come from a culture where we are automatically labeled as broken. Educating our loved ones is not our primary responsibility, so it is important to reach out to people that can advocate for you and can guide you through the process. Family is important for latin@ folk, and having that extra layer of support is incredibly important for our well being and progress through medication and psychotherapy,” she adds.

So, chicas, please seek help if you feel that something isn’t right. You are not alone in this, and there are so many people who would love to help you. Seek help from a teacher, counselor, an adult, or make the decision to seek professional help yourself. Mental illness is just like any illness and it is not a joke.