Overcoming Barriers

Alejandra Salina

Alejandra Salinas, class of 2022, wants to become a nurse to help overcome language barriers in health care settings. Growing up as the oldest child in her family, she often translated for her mom. When she went with her mom to the emergency room or the doctor’s office, she noticed a lack of diversity with the health professionals.

“It made me sad to see that my mom couldn’t communicate with the doctors and nurses. There was always that lack of diversity and a language barrier, so I wanted to become a nurse to better communicate with patients,” she said.

As the first person in her family to go to college, Alejandra and her family overcame challenges when she decided to attend Grand Valley. She had to balance two jobs at one point to pay for school, and her father had to return to work after years of retirement.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, she was also afraid that she wasn’t going to fit in on campus. Fortunately, during her first semester she discovered organizations like Laker Familia, where she was able to find a community that made her feel welcome.

Before a friend from Laker Familia told her about an experience studying in Ghana, Alejandra hadn’t even heard of studying abroad. Coming from a low-income background, it wasn’t something she thought she would ever be able to do, so receiving a full scholarship to study abroad during the summer of 2019 completely changed her life.

“Someone from the study abroad office called me and told me I had gotten the scholarship,” said Alejandra. “I was really excited—I wanted to cry because my trip was fully covered.”

Alejandra traveled to Chillán, Chile for 11 weeks, where she stayed with a host family and took classes like Spanish for the Health Professions, Chilean Civilizations, and Spanish Grammar. She explained that the experience was completely different from anything she could have learned in the United States.

“The Spanish spoken in Chile is way different from the Spanish I know. My class, Spanish for the Health Professions, professor had previously taught in the United States. So it was nice having someone to help us understand the differences between how Spanish is spoken in Chile versus how it’s spoken here,” she said.

The experience was an instrumental step in helping Alejandra achieve her dream of one day becoming a nurse. She wants to take what she learned in Chile and apply it to West Michigan’s Hispanic population to help with language barriers in health care settings.

Alejandra believes it’s important for donors to participate in the Lakers Helping Lakers challenge—a group of alumni leaders has challenged 1,000 Lakers to support first-generation students by June 30, 2020.

“If I wouldn’t have studied abroad, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone, I would still be stuck in my shell, but traveling to another country without knowing anybody and seeing how different it is from here helped me step outside of my comfort zone.”

Alejandra shared how her scholarship made a huge difference in her life, allowing her to gain experience that will help her achieve her dreams.

“To my scholarship donors, I would like to say thank you. Studying abroad was an amazing experience—I learned so much, and I’ll be applying everything I learned to my future career,” she said.

As Grand Valley moves into the final year of the Laker Effect campaign, one focus is on first-generation students like Alejandra who often need extra support from the Grand Valley family. Experiences like study abroad help all students; however, it is especially impactful for first-generation college students.

Learn more about the Lakers Helping Lakers Challenge.