“You’re not going anywhere,” said my dad as I contemplated the idea of going to college in a foreign country.

During my junior year of high school in El Salvador, I started taking English classes at the European Academy. I only knew Spanish, but after one of my friends brought college information from the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Session in Atlanta, I felt intrigued by the idea of moving to the United States.

One of the colleges at the GC Session was Union College. I knew nothing about it, except my teacher’s wife at the European Academy was from Lincoln, Nebraska. After talking to her, I got excited with the idea and started looking at Union College’s website. I thought, If I get good grades, I might be able to get a scholarship.

As time passed it became a distant dream. I lived in a third world country. Studying in the United States was expensive. The average salary of $500 a month for someone with a college degree, or $1,000 if in a high position, was not enough.

College in the USA was almost unreachable—unless you were the president’s daughter or a millionaire.

Even when I knew I couldn’t make it, I had hope. I pictured myself in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had no idea how it looked, but I imagined it.

By my senior year I had already discarded the possibility of coming to Union College. “It’s too much money,” said Mom. Dad, on the other hand, focused on the fact that even if it wasn’t a lot of money it was too early for me to leave. In our culture it is normal to stay at home until one gets married. When I mentioned my desire to move, he was quite opposed to it.

One life-changing moment

While I prayed about my future, a life-changing incident happened. In all my years living in the same place, it wasn’t until August 2, 2011 that I saw my life passing before my eyes. One night I was coming back from dinner at a restaurant with a couple of friends. We got out of the car, and this skinny, dark-haired guy whispered, “Don’t move—nothing is going to happen.” In his hand was a gun. Behind him stood a large, burly-looking guy about 6’4’’.

I was paralyzed. Is this a prank? Am I being recorded? What’s happening? It wasn’t until he was pointing the gun at me pulling my purse that I realized I was being robbed.

Things continued to get worse when my friend’s first reaction was to punch the thief who wanted to steal his car. Boom! One shot. Like a wake up call. I hid under a car. Next thing I know, someone was yelling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t kill me.” I promise I heard it as if it was my friend’s voice. What are we going to do? He is going to kill all of us. God, I’m not ready. “Help!” I screamed.

Finally, I got the courage to look where my friend was and realized he had subdued the armed thief.

And the other guy? Where was the big guy?

He had run away. How could a couple of teenagers with no weapons make him so scared? God knows how. I still don’t.

When the cops finally arrived both thieves had escaped, one bleeding from the face with no gun. How did the thief not shoot us? While they fought for the gun my friend flipped the safety on after the first bullet was fired. When the cops asked my friend if he knew what he was doing he said no.

“You are lucky the gun locked because it had 12 bullets,” said the police officer. It wasn’t luck. It was God.

What next?

After that, I was paranoid. I couldn’t go out without getting goose bumps. I always looked everywhere, scared of everything. Dad sensed it. I wasn’t living well anymore. I needed a change. He told me I could pursue my dream. College abroad seemed right.

After a couple months, my paranoia was lower. However, I had forgotten about Union College, and right before graduation, I planned to go to another Seventh-day Adventist college. Turns out, I couldn’t afford it. Also, there were some required ACT/TOEFL (English language) testing I had not completed when I was supposed to.

What a disappointment. What do I do now? I didn’t apply for colleges in El Salvador. I was not going to college.

Graduating as class valedictorian had been pointless because I didn’t have anywhere to go.

The school year in El Salvador ends in November. By January I was at home with no plan in mind. One day my mom gave me the idea of visiting my Aunt Lucy in Omaha, Nebraska. “I think you should practice the English you have been learning until you start the university next semester. It will give you something to do instead of being home all day.” We talked it out, and a couple of weeks later I was getting on a plane.

From dream to reality

That’s when I remembered Union College. My cousins took me to visit the campus and Mrs. Peggy Wahlen, English as a Second Language teacher, explained the process of getting accepted to the college. I fell in love with the school, and since I felt I could make it there, I started the paperwork.

Shortly after my visit, I called my dad and said, “This is it. If I get accepted I’m moving to Nebraska.”

My parents could not believe this had happened. “We sent you there but we never thought this would happen so fast,” they said.

“I prayed, Dad,” I replied.

It was God. He knew that everything that happened was going to lead me to Union College.

Being accepted was just the beginning; there were many bumps in the road to get here. It wasn’t easy for any of us but with a lot of faith and effort, it all came true. That dream I had so long ago is now my reality.

Yary Jimenez (pictured) writes from Lincoln, Nebraska, where she is studying communication/public relations.

Photo Credit: Jason Alvarez