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Beyond Culture Shock

Beyond Culture Shock

Carina De La PenaFor Carina De La Pena, who’s graduating this month with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS), college has been a process of both challenging and re-affirming her core values.

She came to the College of Natural Sciences, in large part, because of the HDFS major, which seemed like an ideal way to combine her commitment to working with children with her ambition to become a doctor. She’s leaving the college as committed as ever to working with children, but now plans to do so as a nurse rather than as a doctor. She came to Austin from a religiously and racially homogenous community in San Antonio. While she was here, she won an award for a program she created, as a resident assistant in the residence halls, to help students explore their own stereotypes about race. She also deepened her own religious faith through her encounter with students from other traditions and backgrounds.

On the occasion of her graduation, I sat down with Carina to ask her to reflect a bit on her time here.

So why UT in the first place?

UT Austin is a tradition in my family. My late uncle and older sister and brother graduated from UT. My mother was the first in her family to go to college, and she chose UT. And my father has been a Longhorn football fan before any of us kids were even born.

Was it an easy transition?

Not exactly. I went to a high school in San Antonio that was very small. There were three people in my graduating class, including me. I’d known the principal since I was three years old. I was 16 when I graduated from high school. And I’d never really been around a lot of people who weren’t Hispanic. I was surrounded by my own culture and my own beliefs. So getting to UT was a culture shock. I was so young and so naïve.

How did that culture shock affect you?

For one thing, it had an effect on my life as a believer. I came here very religion-driven, and for a while it made me question my religion. Through that questioning, though, and through learning about all these other ways of living, it ended up solidifying my faith. I don’t think you can really believe in something until you question it. I never quite found the religious community at UT that I could connect with in the way that I connect with the one back home, but I found a lot of people who helped me think about what kind of believer I wanted to be.

Tell me about RAs Exposed.

The full title was “RAs Exposed: You think you know, but you have no idea,” and it basically consisted of resident assistants in Jester standing up in front of the audience while brief blurbs about their lives were read by the presenter. The students’ job was to assign a story to the RA they thought the story belonged to, based solely on appearance (i.e., stereotypes). After the audience had assigned all the RAs to a story, the real owners of the stories were revealed, and they got up to talk about their lives and experiences with racism, discrimination, and stereotypes.  Then we had a discussion with the residents.   It was an amazing experience.

What are your plans for the immediate future?

I’m moving back to San Antonio. There are some pre-requisite courses I need to take before I can be accepted to nursing school, so I’m going to take those, and then apply to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Nursing.

Why did you decide to be a nurse instead of a doctor?

I had always wanted to be a doctor, and I was pre-med when I got here. I was pre-med until junior year, but as I began to realize all of the sacrifices that you have to make to become a doctor, in terms of your personal life (especially with regards to family), I realized I didn’t want it. By becoming a nurse, though, I think I’ll get everything I want. I’ll be in the medical field. By working in pediatrics, or in obstetrics, I’ll be able to focus on caring for children, which is what I want the most. And I’ll be able to have more of a life outside of my career. That’s the right compromise for me.

What is it about working with kids that appeals to you?

It’s fun, and it’s exciting, and there’s something new every day. And the kids love you. I love going to work and feeling that I’m loved and that I can love someone else.  I always feel like I’m making a difference each day.

What’s your favorite movie?

The one that I’m embarrassed to admit is The Little Mermaid. The one that I’ll actually admit to people is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which is an old musical. I love the classics.

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

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