Paola

Morgan: What country are you from and how long have you been here?

Paola: I am from Ecuador and I have been here for 17 years.

Morgan: Do you have family here?

Paola: Yes. I have a Gran, which is my grandma’s sister. Her name is Beatrice. She’s married. She has one daughter. I’m very close to them. I was able to live with them from the beginning, since I came, so I’m very close to them. I also have an aunt in California. I saw them once since I’ve been here. I have a cousin who was originally living in Florida by now he’s in New Jersey and he’s here with his wife and two kids. We don’t get together as often, but I do have family here.

Morgan: What do you do here? Do you go to school or work? Have a family?

Paola: Yes. I work. I am a medical receptionist. I am also a mother of a five-year-old daughter. Her name is Giuliana, and life is busy.

Morgan: Does Giuliana go to school?

Paola: Yes, she’s in preschool.

Morgan: So, what do you do for your job?

Paola: I work for two doctors at a very busy doctor’s office. One is a neurologist, and the other one is a dermatologist. I do everything from taking patients to billing and collecting. I’m very, very busy. A full-time medical receptionist is really busy. I’ve been there almost three years and I have a lot of experience in customer service. I’ve been working for publishing companies previously, so yes, I have been working since I came to this country.

Morgan: Is this where you saw yourself working when you came to the United States?

Paola: Well, technically my first job was being out an au pair. I was a nanny, so to speak. The interchange program that I came with is a program that allows you to come as a student and they have rules and regulations you have to follow. You are allowed to be a member of a family. But you also have the responsibility of working for their family. They pay you for a 40-hour work week, so you have a salary, but you live with them. So, since the day I came to this country, I’ve been working since day one, pretty much. So, my first job technically in United States was babysitter.

Morgan: That’s great because I actually work at a daycare myself and I also babysit children in the morning. So, we’re kind of on the same path. So, how did you end up in New Jersey?

Paola: Well, like I was saying, I came to the United States as an au pair; AU pair is a word for babysitting in French. So, this program is an interexchange program that allowed me to come within the student visa. So, I can legally work and go to school for one year here. My inter- exchange program was amazing. I had the opportunity to live with a host family. I took care of the two little girls. One was a five-year-old and the baby was five months old. My host mother was a doctor. She’s actually a pediatrician. And my host father, he was working at that point at the pharmaceutical company, Merck. I came to their house. They were in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. I was with them for one year and during that year, I was able to learn about the country, history, explore many beautiful places, meet beautiful people. It was the best experience of my life. I have made so many friends from around the world because during the au pair program, I got to meet other girls from different countries. So, it was just a beautiful experience and during that time as well, there was a point there when I went to a wedding of one of my girlfriends, and there I met my now husband. He happens to be the groom’s friend. So, I met him there, my now husband, he’s from New Jersey. After I finished my interexchange program, I’ve moved to New Jersey and I’ve lived here since then.

Morgan: What advice would you give someone who would have the same interest in coming over to the U S from another country?

Paola: If you come through the interexchange program, it’s just a wonderful opportunity, absolutely do it. It is a wonderful opportunity for you to get to learn the language, learn the culture, and introduce yourself to different opportunities as a human being and give yourself to others as well. So, it’s just a wonderful opportunity, absolutely do it if you have the passion to learn and explore, it is the best opportunity to just come to a different country, to introduce others to your own culture and to learn other one’s culture in language. So, it’s absolutely an experience that you should do it, if you know that you can do it.

Morgan: How old were you when you left Ecuador?

Paola: I was only 18 years old. And this is actually the allowed age that you need to be in order to participate in the program. So, it seems I was concentrated on joining this interexchange program. There’s so many programs that you can join, but this one particular, the one that I wanted to do, because you get to come to work and make your own money, but at the same time come and learn the language and you know, busy places and meet people. So, it was the perfect opportunity for me. That’s what I was looking for. So, you’re allowed to start these interchange programs when you’re 18 years old. So as soon as I turned 18 is when I came here, I applied for the program. So technically, since I was 18 years old.

Morgan: If you were allowed to do the program earlier, would you have come over earlier than 18?

Paola: No. Many reasons why, the first one will be because my father would not allow me to come. I had to finish high school before I had the choice to do anything else, and my father will not allow me to leave my country at that point. And in Ecuador, you become legal at 18 years old. So technically I would have been able to make my own decision to leave the country, but being underage before 18 years old, my, without my parents’ consent, I couldn’t join any programs. So, without them helping me or giving me consent, I will not be able even to entertain any programs. So absolutely not. And I think it was the right, the right time for me to do when I was just 18 years old.

Morgan: What are some of the morals, values, or customs over in Ecuador?

Paola: In Ecuador, we have a lot of values. Many of those are all related to religion and the values of each family. In South America, especially in Ecuador, we are very religious. I’ll say we are very, we, we just follow our religions, mostly, we are Christian, so we do follow everything that goes with that. So, we are very close to family. We are very close to church. So, we do follow all of those values and that’s our priority. We respect parents, respect elders and work hard. Be a good person. That’s our main value. Be a good person, be respectful. And that’s the way it is. We are a very religious country. I will say, we take every holiday very seriously. You won’t be surprised if you visit my country to see many churches, many, all the things that pretty much, make us, you know, seem that we are very religious, we have many, many values based on our religion. So, we do believe in our religion. So that’s the way it is.

Morgan: Do you think the morals and values compare to the United States, or do you think it’s very different?

Paola: I have to say that things have changed drastically within the last 10 years. When I first came here, I used to think that the countries were totally different in the way that we see things, based on values, based on religion. But times have changed so much worldwide that now I believe that. Things have changed also in Ecuador. So, the things that we used to believe and follow 17 years ago is not the same now. I will say that worldwide, I think everything is becoming more liberal. So, things are changing. Values are within the families more than the countries, at this point. So, things have changed. Through the last 17 years, I can see that myself, since I’m been here for 17 years, I can say that nothing is as it used to be 17 years ago. So, values are still there, but in each family and in the individuals, nothing is the same. It’s now worldwide, pretty much. You follow who you are, and you are who you are. So, things have changed.

Morgan: Why did you leave? What was your journey like?

Paola: For the longest time, I was always interested of learning a different language and exploring different places. When I started entertaining the idea of leaving Ecuador, just to see different places, an interexchange program was a huge opportunity for me to achieve that dream. So, I did search further into being an interexchange student. I pretty much apply for the inter exchange program. And that was my first step. The journey wasn’t easy. There’s so many requirements for any program, but this particular one, you know, you need a student visa. You need to have knowledge of the language. You need to have a driver’s license, you need to have experience in childcare and all the documentation and prove that everything is legit. And it wasn’t an easy process, but yet, once everything was said and done, it was just a beautiful experience. Once again, the technology 17 years ago was not the same. So, all the paperwork was, you know, a longer process than it is right now. Everything was through emails and you know, phone calls, video calls, but it wasn’t the same as it would have been now or so. It was interesting to apply to do all the paperwork, trying to meet a family through portfolios and pictures and trying to trust someone from so far away that you’ll be okay. You’ll be taken care of. Because the same way I was going to take care of their kids, I had to feel safe, that I was going to be okay. My parents were scared. My father didn’t want me to go. And they didn’t know if they could trust someone from so far away that, you know, I’ll be okay. But it was part of the deal that you have to trust who you’re meeting with, trust who you going to. And it was just pretty mutual, a trust situation. I fell in love with the family and the girls when I saw the folders, the application, and it was mutual. So, it wasn’t easy for my parents to trust someone from so far away who don’t even speak their own language to say, can you please take care of my daughter? She’ll be okay. They couldn’t even say that, but it was pretty much a trust issue on my father to say, yeah, you’ll be okay. And you can take care of yourself. So, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t an easy journey. But at the end is where you take a chance to make one of your dreams come true. So, my dream was to come, see new places, explore and learn. And I, I fell on my God, I fell in love with the host family. And they liked me and I liked them, and yeah, I ended up with a beautiful host family.

Morgan: Who did you come with? Were you scared or excited?

Paola: I came by myself and no, I was not scared. I was just excited. It was just like all I ever wanted, so I was so young that, I was not scared at all. I was just excited, ready to see new faces, meet new people, and just excited. I didn’t even look back for a second when I came.

Morgan: What was your first impression when you arrived? Did anything surprise you and what was your biggest challenge?

Paola: It was absolutely overwhelming. First of all, I had the first airplane ride in my life. I was for the first time on the airplane, for the first time, traveling outside the country, for the first time, doing everything by myself. So, the impression just to be by myself and doing everything on my own was just adrenaline that I cannot explain, but everything was just amazing to me, everything was amazing at that point. I was only 18 years old, and through my eyes, everything was a dream. So, I arrived to New York City, so from my beautiful small town from Ecuador to New York City, it was just a huge change. I could not even believe that I was in New York City with so much noise, lights, people. The adrenaline was amazing, but nothing compares to that first impression of, I’m here in United States in New York City, Fifth Avenue. Unbelievable. Amazing.

Morgan: Have you lived in any other places?

Paola: No, I have only been in Ecuador and then when I came here to United States. So that’s the only two places I’ve been. And no, that’s the only two countries I have ever been.

Morgan: Do you have family and your country of origin? Are you in contact with them? Have you visited them?

Paola: Oh, yes, absolutely. So, my entire family still lives in Ecuador. So, through the years, obviously my family has grown dramatically. So, my two sisters got married. They both have now kids. And besides my sisters, my friends and cousins and everybody. So, in 17 years, obviously life have changed drastically there. So. luckily for me, technology has made things way easier for me to be in contact with them. You know, be able to text them, call them video, chat with them. So, it’s easier than it used to be 17 years ago. I can tell you the difference for sure. The first year, the only contact that I had with them was via email or phone calls and it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap. So, for the first year it caused me a lot of money to call them. And I don’t think I ever got home sick the first year, but I did used to call them at least once or twice a week. And on special occasions, birthdays, Christmas, holidays. But it was very expensive to the point that I can say like $5 gift card, calling card for 10 minutes. So, it was really, really expensive to try to get in touch with them with international calling 17 years ago. So, it is a pleasure or literally a luxury to have what we have now that I can actually talk to them, see them for free and see them and see what they’re doing and talk to them like very much like, we’re together now. But 17 years ago, it was a very expensive to communicate with them, but I do, I go to my country once a year and they come to see me also once a year. It is hard. But it’s worth it. I mean, I’m used to it now.

Morgan: What do you miss from your country of origin? Would you ever go back there to live?

Paola: Yes. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss the food. I’d definitely go back to living in Ecuador. There’s no doubt about that.

Morgan: How is life here different from where you came from?

Paola: Life is so different here due to the fact that in this country, you have to work hard to earn a living. Every day can be crazy, but if you put your mind to it, you can make your dreams come true really fast. In my country, you can also work hard, but life is not to rush. We spend time with family, life and work or leave separately. We have plan to time to be together with family and friends and get together. Life is harder there because the pay salary is not as high, but your dreams may come through in a longer amount of time. So, it’s pretty much like quality versus quantity.

Morgan: Are you able to do things here that you did in your home country such as foods, special holidays, customs.

Paola: Yes. I know we have similar holidays that we celebrate like Easter, Christmas, but there are so many other holidays and customs that are just impossible to do or celebrate. It’s just that we just don’t have the access to all the foods and preparations and song and anything. It’s just our home traditions from my origin, that are just not accessible and they’re just hard to celebrate. But, no. So, we do celebrate the similar holidays and the traditional ones are just in my heart because we cannot do them here.

Morgan: What do you like and dislike about living in New Jersey or the United States itself?

Paola: Living here, it’s just a beautiful country, it’s a country of opportunities. That’s what I like about the United States. Now being in New Jersey, I have really close friends that we live in the same state, so we get to be together and family as well. But, the taxes in New Jersey are just horrible. So that’s the only thing that I dislike about New Jersey.

Morgan: What makes you feel welcome here, or what makes you feel unwelcome, if anything?

Paola: Well, like I said before, what this country is just a beautiful country. And you pretty much get to be in the country that gives you many opportunities. I feel like people in general are very welcoming here, wherever you go, whoever you meet, since we have such a variety. You know, a mix of cultures and people, you get to share so much more than like in Ecuador. In Ecuador, you will not find a variety of cultures. Just an example, in my town itself, like you will never meet up with a population of five, six cultures, like I see here daily, you know, Indians, Polish, Italians, French, you know, there’s so many cultures and different nationalities that you can meet here in one day, that you will never run into those kinds of situations back at home. Back at home, here’s the Ecuadorians; this is my town and we are all the same. It’s really strange to meet someone foreign. So, here it is just awesome that you get to meet and socialize with so many other cultures. For the last 17 years, I have never felt, not felt welcomed this country.

Morgan: How, do you have any exuberant moments since getting here? Have you had any particularly different moments where you wondered why you even came?

Paola: Yes. So, I will say that the most extraordinary moment in my life was when I met the love of my life when I came here. That changed my life forever. Since then, I came, I stayed here and I never went back to my country because now I’m married here to an amazing American man, and I love that. After that, obviously I became a mom and with all the beautiful things, one of the most memorable times in my legal status, so to speak, was when I became a United States citizen. It wasn’t an easy journey as well because you have to follow all the steps to be a United States citizen. But you know, you have to follow the rules. Being an immigrant is a beautiful thing. You get to share your experiences and cultures with other people, but at the same time, you get to live in a country that is providing you so much. Yeah, becoming a United States citizen was one of my exuberant moments, for sure in my life. When things get hard here and I see how wonderful things are happening in Ecuador with my family or friends, I do question, why did I come here in the first place? But I always remember how truly lucky I am to have been given the opportunity and how truly I’m in love with my new family, my new country.