A Seed Trying to Change the World
Think about a seed for a second. Can you picture it? No? Let me help you then. Think about an acorn for instance. Acorns are smaller than a table tennis ball, and they have very hard outer coverings that protect small seeds inside. Acorns might be small, but have you ever seen a more beautiful picture than an oak tree covering the sunrise of a new day? Something as small as an acorn can give birth to a majestic tree that provides shelter to animals and food to people, but it must undergo a very specific process: the seed must die. When the outer covering of the seed is degraded and the actual life-bearing portion of it sprouts, the seed experiences a painful and irreversible experience that ultimately can lead to a plant or a tree that can bless mankind. This is such a paradox because the death of a seed produces the lives of many more seeds.
Since I was a child growing up in the capital city of El Salvador, I always dreamed about going out of my country to pursue a better education and to explore the world. I was born in a middle-class family, which is a good thing in national terms since I had food and a roof over my head but not in international terms since the wages in El Salvador are very low – the minimum wage is around $260 per month. Since my parents could not afford to pay for my undergraduate education abroad, the only way for me to accomplish my dream was through getting a scholarship. I was a seed waiting to sprout and grow and become a huge and beautiful tree, but I had no idea that the cost was going to be that high (and I am not talking about money).
The journey of getting the scholarships to be in MSU is a whole different story by itself, but I will try to summarize it the best way I can. In El Salvador, the standardized test that every high school graduating student must take is called PAES. It is basically the SAT, but with math, science, language and literature, and social studies. Out of more than 80,000 students that took the test that year, I was the only one in the country to get a perfect score. This allowed me to automatically win a $100,000 scholarship to study anywhere in the world that I wanted, along with other smaller prices like special products or coupons to eat at Pizza Hut.
Since I already knew how to speak English and the US is not that far from my country, I decided that I wanted to study here; but I needed more money than what I had obtained through my PAES score. After knocking on a lot of different doors, I was able to get around 90% of what my four years at Michigan State will end up costing. In order to complete the other 10%, I worked on campus and received a little bit of help from my parents which means the world to me because I know they are doing a lot of sacrifices to help. It was a tough adventure but definitely not the hardest part of coming to MSU.
Why did I start talking about dying seeds and sublime oak trees? My purpose was not to make the reader feel sad or confused, but I wanted to explain the way I view life. We are all seeds in this huge forest we called planet Earth, and we are destined to become big trees and fruitful plants that will our forest beautiful and full of life for every single being living in it. My “dying” process was leaving my family, my culture, my food, my country, and ultimately my comfort zone. I came to MSU by myself not knowing anyone and with no idea what I was going to do here besides studying Mechanical Engineering. Growing up in a cultural and religious bubble exposed me to one specific way of thinking with all other ways being “wrong”; and when I came here, a lot of my ideals and thoughts were challenged for good and for bad by many different things I had never seen.
One of the biggest things that was shocking for me was the fact that racism still exists. As I was growing up, I would see ads on TV or Facebook campaigns talking about why eradicating racism is important. If I am being honest, I would get a puzzled face and a big question mark above my head and ask, “What are they even talking about? Racism has not been a thing since a long time ago.” For people living in El Salvador, we are all Salvadorans that speak Spanish and like the same type of food; and we never identify as black, white, Latino, or any other race. The concept of race is not engraved in us like something to feel privileged or unprivileged about, so I came here thinking that this was going to be the same thing. But since the first time I tried ordering Subway in the Atlanta airport and I was made fun of because of my English and my skin color, I realized this was going to be a whole new world for me!
For instance, in my freshman year I had a group for my general chemistry recitation that met on Tuesdays to solve the handouts containing chemical equations that needed to be balanced and atomic models to be drawn. My group was composed of two American girls and me, and since the first day we met everything was so awkward. They would never let me write in the paper or even ask my opinion to fill out the sheet even though I would know the right answers. They clearly did not like me, and just to make it worse, they would make fun of our TA, who was from India, because of the way he spoke. Incidents like these surprised me and showed me that not everything is easy in life, but I also had a lot of challenging but enriching experiences.
One of these challenging experiences that helped me grow a lot as a person was having to make friends that are completely different from me. In my freshman year, I was not only one of the few people from Latin America, but I was also the only person from El Salvador out of the 50,000 students that MSU has! This basically forced me to make friends from other cultures, languages, and religions, which I would have probably never done if there were more Salvadorans in MSU. Honestly, I am so grateful that this happened!
On my freshman year, most of my friends were from India and Eastern Asia and practiced religions like Hinduism and Islam. Back home, religions like these are not really appreciated and acknowledged; but since my freshman year, I have been having very deep conversations with my friends about the meaning of life and about religions, and these have allowed me to grow so much as a person. This helped me get rid of many biases I had and it also helped me understand how different and amazing people are. Being aware of how diverse the world is, has been probably one of the greatest lessons I have learned here.
My “dying process” of being in a foreign land with a foreign language and culture was hard at first, but I was able to understand that it has a purpose: to bring a new life for me and for those around me. The hard lessons and the hard times have taught me to become a better person and to pursue a better future for the seeds that will want to sprout in five or ten or twenty years from now. My life has been like pollen that is taken away from the flower to sprout and be fruitful in unknown lands. It has not been easy, but I have learned so many lessons that have helped me grow as a person. Even when my morals and ideals were challenged, I was given new meanings to who I am and to what my purpose in life is.
One of the biggest lessons has been realizing that we are not here to stay as seeds and have a very easy life without a process that will make us grow, but we are here to fill the woods with our flowers and our fruits. For that to happen, each of us must undergo our own “dying process” that will give life to our forest. My process has been full of homesickness, discrimination, and sleepless and busy nights; but it has also been full with diversity awareness lessons, friendship lessons, leadership training, educational opportunities, and life-changing experiences. And this is where I find another crazy paradox: my dying process has been full of enriching experiences that outweigh the hard times!
Before coming to MSU, I was just another acorn with no clue on how to become a tall tree. Now, I know that my purpose is to be the best version of myself to bless others around me and to educate them and show them how awesome our forest is. I want to go back to El Salvador one day and help future students to find their own life purpose. This is the way I want to bear fruit to this world: by shining a light in people’s hearts so that they can see how amazing this life-bearing process is. And I am so happy to know that I found out about this purpose in Michigan State. After all, I am just an acorn trying to sprout and grow; but for this world forest to radiate glory, more trees and plants need to be born from dying-living seeds.
Josue is a mechanical engineering student from El Salvador that dreams about helping his country in the future and maybe even the world. He loves music, spending time with family and friends, serving at church, and eating Salvadoran food.