Nora’s Story: Overcoming Barriers to Find Friendship & Community

When I entered high school, I was unmotivated. On the “regular academic track,” I did not know how I would survive, thrive, and graduate from high school.

Nora and Bobby at the No Barriers Summit

No Barriers Youth Ambassadors Nora and Bobby at the 2016 No Barriers Summit

I remember that I feared the summers even more than the school year because my community was perilous. My sophomore year, when I found out about the Learning AFAR program and the grant offered to Chicago schools, I was ecstatic. I could not think of a better way to spend my summer because I could finally escape the violence that surrounded me.

As I am writing this, I cannot imagine how my high school career would have been without this opportunity. My Costa Rica trip was eye-opening and fascinating, and the skills and lessons that I learned have stayed with me.

I always had a passion for conserving the environment, and I interned every Saturday at the Nature Museum, but I did not know how to share my interests with my peers. I wanted to travel, yet my illiterate parents worked tirelessly in dead-end jobs, and they did not have the financial ability to pay for a travel program.

This experience and grant allowed me to overcome these barriers, and traveling enabled me to learn more about myself.

Lessons in Friendship and Community

While in Costa Rica, I interacted with other students who I normally didn’t talk to in school. Now I consider them some of my closest friends. I met a remarkably fun-loving family, and as we rapidly became acquainted with one another, we began to share fears, laughs, tears (and dance moves), until these experiences and emotions belonged to all of us.

In Costa Rica, we zip-lined, tried peculiar food, and explored numerous rainforests. I also experienced, for the first time, the deeper meaning of fun, diversity, maturity—and unconditional friendship. My trip also gave me new insight on my own Mexican-American heritage.



No one person overcame these differences; the most important trip of my life taught me the meaning of community. Because while these friendships live on today, that’s nothing compared to the mountainous differences in culture, politics, and values that we struggled with at the time. No one person bridged these divides—the group did. We did together what no single person could do.

These life lessons and experiences have molded me into an open-minded, responsible, and optimistic person. As a first-generation Mexican-American student, I know that I will face numerous challenges in life. Because of my Costa Rica trip, I emerged into a non-conformist, a leader, and a thinker. I enjoy collaborating with people who have divergent points of view. Because of this, I know that I will cross academic and cultural boundaries to accomplish my goals.

A Student Transformed

I want to thank you for helping me make my dreams a reality. I feel more confident as I write you because my experience in Costa Rica allowed me to define and redefine who I am. It has given me concrete examples and experiences to draw on. No longer am I unmotivated; I am enthusiastic and I consistently strive to help those around me who are “unmotivated.”

I feel that this experience has opened many doors for me, and it couldn’t have happened without the generosity of people like you. Learning AFAR has been an integral part of my life experience because it showed me how to be a leader and a shaker, and how to take my future into my own hands. I can only hope that this program will continue transforming the lives of my peers, because it immensely revitalized my life.

November 22, 2016
No Barriers

No Barriers

Get Involved. Be Forever Changed.

Stay up-to-date on new opportunities & community stories.