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Colombia native overcomes cultural adversity


Jeremiah Hassel, Features Editor

Picture yourself in the beautiful country of Colombia. The landscape boasts breath-taking forests, bodies of water, and architecture reminiscent of the rich history of the country. You are a young teenager just gaining your footing in the world, looking toward college and graduating high school and what will come next. Life seems great, a peaceful existence with your mother and siblings. Why, then, do you drop everything and move to the United States?

For second semester freshman Angel Mora, the answer was simple. A psychology major and dual minor in Spanish and communication as well as a Student Government Association (SGA) senator and a Lion Ambassador, Mora moved to the United States during his high school years in search of a better life outside the issues plaguing Colombia at the time.

“It was an adventure. It was definitely a humbling experience… because I lost all the privileges that I had in Colombia,” said Mora. “I became aware that what really matters in life is not the material elements that you have that you can buy with your money. It’s the bonds that you can create with people.”

Upon arriving in Erie, Mora enrolled at McDowell High School, graduating in 2018 to pursue higher education here at Penn State Behrend. During his time at McDowell, Mora participated in several activities, including Model United Nations (MUN) as well as several summer classes and activities at Behrend through the MCE/Wise and PaSSS programs.  

Mora’s involvement in high school and in Behrend’s programs secured him an early acceptance to Behrend, which Mora eagerly accepted, believing that Behrend would give him the feelings of acceptance and belonging as well as the opportunities Colombia could not provide him.

“I see college as the opportunity to overcome poverty,” said Mora. “You are not aware of the different elements that make up this world. You have the opportunity to meet people from so many different backgrounds… It’s more about making meaningful connections with people and to add value to their lives.”

As beneficial as Mora’s time in the United States has been for him with regard to education, there were several other factors that convinced him to make the move out of Colombia. Mora’s mother passed away when he was just 15, a tragedy that left him alone with only his siblings to depend on, as Mora’s father had moved to the United States shortly after Mora was born. To survive and move forward with his life, Mora made the difficult decision to leave everything behind in search of his father and better educational opportunities.

“I was definitely supportive of this decision because I was going to be living with my dad… I always had the dream of meeting him, to actually have my dad next to me,” said Mora. “I needed to come to college so that I could end the stigma that Hispanic people have low paying jobs or that all Hispanics are criminal or drug dealers,” he continued. “I wanted to show not only to the community of Behrend, if not to the whole community of Penn State, and beyond that, our country and the world, that Hispanic people are good people, that Hispanic people are more than Hispanic. They are people, and people can be good or bad.”

In the face of adversity, Mora was able to overcome the obstacles in his life and pursue a higher education. He hopes to one day be the president of the SGA and to become even more involved on campus, promoting diversity and equality for everyone.

After graduating, Mora hopes to attend graduate school somewhere in the United States to pursue a degree in positive psychology and to one day begin a career as a motivational speaker.

“I would like to motivate people to get the best from themselves, and I would also like to travel between Colombia and the United States to motivate new people,” said Mora.

Mora’s story proves that in a world plagued with discrimination and racial and ethnic controversy, international students living and studying in the United States can in fact make a name for themselves and pursue their dreams.

“You have the power to choose between doing something good for people and making this world a better place, or to make this world a place where no one has hope, where people do not feel that they belong,” said Mora. “I would like to share with the Behrend community my favorite quote: ‘El olvidado asombro de estar vivos.’ It means in English ‘the forgotten astonishment of being alive.’”

Photo By: Angel Mora