New culture, new country, familiar goal

October 7, 2016


To get a good job, Fabiola Cruz had to learn English, then get a college degree. Persistence is getting her there.

Twenty-five years ago, Fabiola Cruz had just gotten married. She was 15, the daughter of seasonal farm workers who moved wherever harvest time took them.

Now, at 40, she’s a college student who’s already finished her associate degree, on her way to a bachelor’s degree in health care management. Through hard work, optimism and the opportunities at Johnson County Community College, she expects a much different life than her parents.

“That is what we all want. Our parents want a better life for us. We then want a better life for our children,” she said, adding that JCCC played a big role in her journey.

“The resources at this campus are what made the difference,” she said.

How she got to JCCC

Cruz first visited JCCC in March of 2011, only months after her husband had moved to the Kansas City area. She had stayed in Mexico with their teenage daughter, making two visits to the United States.

“I still had one foot in Mexico,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure about it. One of those times I visited the college and decided to sign up for fall classes.”

She enrolled in the Global English Institute at JCCC, where English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes are offered. Since she knew little English, EAP teachers placed her near the very beginning of the program.

“It was discouraging to me that I had to start at such a low level,” she said. “So many times I say, ‘OK, I’m done, I’m going back to Mexico,’” Cruz said.

She didn’t. She came back for each class. She kept trying.

Persisting through challenges

“I am not afraid to make mistakes,” she said. “Experience is how I get through things. If it doesn’t work, oh well, start again.”

With that attitude and her EAP knowledge, she signed up for a psychology class at JCCC. Then she began Composition I.

“When I got back my papers, oh they were so marked up,” she said, laughing.

In 2013, she began working part-time as a birth certificate registrar at Overland Park Regional Medical Center. Even though the hospital was less than a mile away from JCCC, it still was a balancing act – but one she managed. When she was offered a full-time position as a practical nurse, she accepted, thinking she could be both a full-time student and full-time employee.

“That was a mistake,” she said. “But I tried it, I learned, and this semester, I’m only taking six credits. I don’t want to make the same mistake.”

Still here, but moving forward

Because of her job, it’s going to take a little bit longer to get her bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University. But because the university offers a cohort that meets at JCCC for up to 80 transferrable credits, Cruz said it’s felt as if she’s never left JCCC.

“I tell my ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers, when I see them on campus, ‘Yes, I have my associates degree, and yes, I am working on my B.A.,” she said. “I don’t want them thinking, ‘Is she still here?’” Again she laughs.

Cruz plans on spending her last years of study on the Ottawa University campus and then seek out a career that takes advantage of her leadership skills.

She said she’ll be sorry to say goodbye to JCCC. “Here, I know where to go if I need help with anything…(but) I’m not afraid of new experiences. Nothing has been easy in my life – nothing. But I will try, always.”