Elisa Escobar's parents were exiled from Chile, South America during the time of the Pinochet dictatorship in the mid-70s. They arrived in California just out of high school, and with no English language skills. They found what work they could, started a family, and tried to make a life for themselves in an unfamiliar country.
Elisa and her younger brother were born into dual citizenship, but raised in a Spanish-speaking home. Although Elisa spent her childhood here, she did not learn to speak English until she enrolled in kindergarten at six years old. Despite her language challenges, Elisa thrived in school and quickly adapted to the contrasts of her home and school environment.
But when the political unrest in Chile was resolved, the family returned home and Elisa, then 12, continued her education in her parent's native country. After completing high school, Elisa married. It wasn't long before she and her husband realized how hard it was to be successful in Chile without an excellent education, but the education system was much more exclusive than in the U.S., and if you didn't test extremely well on very difficult exams, the only real opportunities to succeed in that country vanished forever.
Taking advantage of Elisa's dual citizenship, the couple decided to move back to California temporarily, so her husband could go to school while she worked. The plan was to work hard for a few years and earn enough money and education to return home to a more secure future. Elisa found work as a dental assistant while her husband went to school at DeAnza Community College to earn a computer networking degree. Upon finishing his degree, the couple discovered that the timing was not very good for his chosen career and he decided to switch gears and pursue an architecture degree, which required a bachelor's degree. Elisa's husband took a few more classes, and then successfully transferred to UC Berkeley and graduated last spring.
Elisa had always hoped that she too, would be able to go to school in the US, and when they discovered how much financial aid was available to her husband, and how he could go to school without the added challenges of working, she wondered if it would be possible for her to start school as well.
Elisa found the courage to visit the Diablo Valley College Financial Aid Office just to ask a few questions about the possibility of her starting school too. She was amazed by the helpfulness of the staff and the variety of support services that were open to her. She soon realized that it was very feasible to join her husband as a full-time student.
"The people in the Financial Aid Office were very friendly, and extremely helpful and knowledgeable. If it weren't for their help and encouragement, school would not have been possible for me," Elisa said. "I am now a pre-med student applying to UC Berkeley's Public Health department for transfer in the fall. Working through the Transfer Alliance Program, which serves minorities with high academic standing, I was able to get one-on-one assistance with my application and essay from a Berkeley counselor. I feel like everyone is on my side and they genuinely want me to succeed."
Elisa does not have any plans to return to Chile anytime soon. Her mother and younger brother also now live in California and her brother attends DeAnza as well. "The opportunity here is really remarkable," said Elisa. "I always tell my friends, ‘It doesn't help to assume that you won't be able to get help and services.' I had nothing to lose by asking, and look what I have gained. My whole life would look very different if I didn't visit the DVC Financial Aid Office. I'm very glad that I did."