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Growing academically and exploring her identity

Chemical and biological engineering student Alicia Cortez Romero remembers clearly what it felt like to leave her hometown of San Miguel in El Salvador to travel around the world to Vancouver and start studies at the University of British Columbia.

“It was very hard. I thought, all the time, that it would be fine to move away but then when I did, I wondered, all the time, when I would see my family again. I was homesick. But it was also very, very exciting.”

While this can be a common experience for first-year students starting their studies at a university away from home, Alicia dealt with any homesickness by speaking on the phone to her mother as much as possible, making friends with residence pals and peers, and getting the support she needed to excel academically.

Alicia’s advice to students is to not let fear get in the way of trying new things.

“University is a place where you learn who you are. Don’t be afraid to be you. Find somebody to help you if you need help and don’t be afraid to ask. Everybody is friendly and welcoming at Vantage and at UBC."

Born in San Miguel, El Salvador, a small, tight-knit town, Alicia grew up knowing all her neighbours. It’s a town very different than Vancouver, says Alicia.

In her final year of high school, Alicia looked abroad for potential places to obtain her post-secondary education.

“I was trying to find a university where I could grow academically and explore things outside my comfort zone,” says Alicia. The beautiful pictures of the University of British Columbia’s campus piqued Alicia’s interest, and although she’d never been to Canada, she accepted her offer of admission with great anticipation. Alicia received a scholarship to study at Vantage College, and flew to Canada, a country she’d never been to.

She quickly made friends while living in residence at Place Vanier, and found support from the staff at Enrolment Services and Vantage College.

Since then, she’s been a Vantage College orientation leader, a Vantage College peer mentor, and works at Vantage as a Student Program Services Assistant, helping to orient incoming students through various events as well as planning for Vantage College’s annual first-year academic conference, the Capstone Conference.

Alicia’s favourite moment of her undergraduate career thus far is helping plan the Capstone Conference with the Vantage College team. A busy time every summer, planning the conference takes multiple meetings to figure out logistics and making the conference the best it can be for the students who participate and who soon move on to different faculties within UBC.

In her free time, Alicia likes to spend time in various parks in Vancouver. Her favourite, because of its calming nature and artwork, is Queen Elizabeth Park.