A Plan B She Never Knew Existed

 

Alejandra Alarcon’s college plans were dashed by lack of financial aid. As she as she gears up for her Plan B this spring, she is experiencing independence in Portland with her sister. (Pictured above at Lloyd Center in Portland). PHOTO: Courtesy of Alejandra Alarcon

 

By Alejandra Alarcon, Coachella Unincorporated

Reporting from PORTLAND, Ore. – At a very young age, my siblings and I got into the habit of checking price tags before asking our parents to purchase any item. A lack of money always stopped us from getting things we wanted, even though we were not short of things we needed.

Although I learned to restrict my spending, I never thought my family’s limited income would become an obstacle to achieving my goals. The idea that education was the best way to become successful in life was planted in my head ever since I learned how to tie my shoes.

My parents stressed this to us as kids because they did not want us to work in the fields as my mother did during many summers.  My father would always ask, “Which college do you want to go to, mija?”

I have two older siblings who are currently furthering their education.  My sister Gabriela is in Oregon getting her doctorate in Behavioral Neuroscience, and my brother Robert is in Kentucky getting his Bachelor of Arts in Health Science. Both of them received all the financial support they needed.

My plan has always been to attend a four-year college right after graduating from Coachella Valley High School. I knew I was bright enough to attend the college that was right for me. I pictured in my head the quintessential scenario of my family helping me move into my dorm and meeting my new roommate.

There was never a plan B.

This summer, however, things did not go as planned. I expected to attend San Francisco State University, but I had to take out a loan in order to pay for housing. Problems kept stacking up. My parents could not financially support me and for reasons ranging from delays in tax information to a poor economy, SFSU could not give me any financial support. At that point, it was impossible for me to attend SFSU in the fall.

I had another opportunity to attend Portland State University, where my sister goes to school. I went as far as signing up for classes and completing an online orientation. The excitement was real. However, when it came down to it, I could not afford the out-of-state tuition with the minimal financial support the school had to offer.

Every previously open door of opportunity was shutting me out. I felt defeated.

Friends and family tried to console me by pointing out other options I had not considered, like community college. Everyone said, “Everything happens for a reason.”

I thought to myself, “This happened because I’m poor. This happened because I wasn’t good enough for a scholarship.”

I really beat myself up. However, with patience and support from my loved ones, I learned to understand that just because I hit a couple of dead-ends along the path, my world was not ending. Things did not go the way I planned. Life happens, and I knew I had to keep moving on.

By the time I realized I would not be attending Portland State, it was too late for me to sign up for fall classes at College of the Desert. However, now I am planning to attend COD in the spring and summer. Meanwhile, I am living in Portland, Oregon, with my sister and having my own adventure. I am exploring a new city that is completely different from the one in which I was raised.  I am becoming independent and learning how to adapt to change.

I know this experience is helping me grow as a person, and I have learned to accept the challenges that have been thrown at me – challenges that many people also have to overcome. I understand that these types of circumstances are common to people that come from my community.

It does not matter which direction I take to reach my goals, even if I thought I had it all planned out. The most important thing is that I complete them.

 

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