By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added December 11, 2011 at 8:49 pm
As Ariani Gil-Regalado, then 18, stood in the Avior terminal of Aeropuerto Internacional de Barcelona (International Airport of Barcelona) in Venezuela saying goodbye to her beloved family, the moment was bittersweet. Although this was not her first trip away from home, and also not her first trip to the United States, this time the distance would be more permanent — she was heading off to college.
Although her loving father would be by her side for the first few months, helping her adjust to living in America, saying goodbye to the doting and close-knit family that always supported and cared for her was difficult.
As Gil-Regalado recalls, “I was pretty calm on my way to the plane… but once we took off and my dad was asleep I started crying. Because I didn’t know when I would be able to see them [her family] again.”
Although the separation from her family was difficult, she also recalls how difficult it was to be separated from the traditional food she’d enjoyed since she was a child.
“Arepas, empanadas, cason…” she trails off, dreamily thinking of the food she loves most.
It’s curious to compare the loss of access to delicious traditional Venezuelan foods to the loss of immediacy and connection to your entire support system. But that is all a part of the unique and bubbly character that has become a trademark of Gil-Regalado. From her bright and electric smile to her voracious appetite and her spirited approach to life, Gil-Regalado has made an impression on her fellow Eastern Michigan University students.
Some of those impressions, including the first with her new roommates were a bit… odd.
“I forgot that I was a foreigner,” she says with a sharp laugh. “I saw my roommate in the mall and I tried to give her a hug, but she squirmed and pulled away. I forgot that’s not what you do here.”
Now in her third year at EMU, Gil-Regalado, 20, a senior studying International Affairs with a minor in communications, has begun to feel more at home in American culture.
“I’m a Red Wings fan. I love watching football. University of Michigan and Ohio State are my favorite teams,” said Gil-Regalado. “I know some people are going to read that and be like ‘she likes OSU and U of M? That’s not possible!’” She laughs again.
Even though she has adjusted well to American culture, she still remembers just how different life in Michigan is to her home Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela.
“My [high school] graduating class had six people in it,” says Gil-Regalado.
From six people in her graduating class to a lecture hall that sits two-hundred, is a huge change. But Gil-Regalado has thrived in the fast paced and highly populous college atmosphere at EMU.
She’s scheduled for graduation in April 2012 and in just three years has racked up an impressive 118 credits.
After her graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to achieve her master’s degree in either international affairs or international development. She’s yet to be accepted to any, but has her fingers crossed for Johns Hopkins University, University of Pittsburgh or DePaul University.
With a 3.81 GPA and her honor student status, she might not have to wish too hard.
Currently she is working as an intern and legal assistant at the Consulate of Mexico in Detroit, MI. But her aspirations are set even higher. Her current goal is to become a Foreign Service Officer.
Throughout her matriculation Gil-Regalado has been a part of several student organization at EMU including Forensics, Model United Nations (MUN), Amnesty International and capoeira (a Brazilian martial art).
Initial cultural difficulties aside, Gil-Regalado has flourished socially, making many friends who speak highly of this talented and ambitious woman. Smart, caring, beautiful and jovial are just some of the adjectives her friends have used to describe her.
“Ari is a very determined individual,” says friend and roommate Kiara Vann. “She’s strong willed and knows how to set and achieve goals. I think she’ll go very far in life.”
Gil-Regalado is a rare and unique woman. Though she grew up in South America, she has now realized the American dream. Although she’s accomplished much in her twenty-years, her future is much brighter. Her remarkable courage, determination and appetite are a welcomed addition to EMU and she has defined what it means to be TruEMU.