run with it | University of Nevada, Reno

I’ll have to take a leap of faith soon. This is my senior year at the University of Nevada, Reno, and already people are asking me, “What’s next?” I’m not sure where I’m going, but I have experience jumping. I was eighteen when I “ran away” from home. I say “run away” because I didn’t actually run away – I was of legal age and only left after confirming that my father would be going without a car for the summer (“What would happen if I ‘hypothetically’ took out a loan your car for a summer, dad?”). He was surprisingly supportive, but had the condition of constantly checking, taking lots of pictures along the way, and of course – not telling my mother. And so I jumped in. I collected all the money that I had birthdays and Christmas cards after eighteen years, and was driving north on I-5. Before I knew it, I was backpacking through the Olympic National Forest, taking paragliding lessons, and crossing the international border into Canada on a ferry , then even navigating the cockpits of several small airplanes to learn to fly.I’ve met world travelers and homesteaders, mucked out horse boxes and driven tractors . I smoked salmon and drank with versatile sailors, but most of all I learned what kind of person I wanted to be.

Alejandra poses next to a large ship called the Western Flyer

I was born and raised in Reno, and although I was an excellent student as a child, I felt unhappy because I felt trapped. Everything I had achieved by the time I graduated was for my parents. I just wanted to make her proud. My parents are both working class, both children of divorce who had to work for everything they have now. Their stories are success stories of creating a better life for themselves by putting their noses to the grindstone.

Everyone and their mother talk about the dangers of traveling alone, especially as a woman. Not every experience was good. But what they don’t tell you is that you are often your worst enemy. You learn while you’re alone that you need to have faith in your own decisions. I learned the difference between taking risks (good) and being reckless (bad). I’ve learned that fear is good because it protects you, but unnecessary fear gets in the way of incredible experiences.

My mother is a first-generation immigrant from Peru and still has the work ethic of someone who has struggled to survive in a country that hasn’t always been forgiving. I inherited her stubbornness and courage from her. My father is the youngest of three children who grew up in rural Nevada and struggled through his school days working graveyard shifts in casinos. I inherited his patience and love of learning from him. They met and virtually never left the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, working their way up the educational ladder to professional positions and out of the working class. They worked hard to instill those values ​​in my brother and I, and their perseverance set the bar high. We had the extracurricular opportunities my parents didn’t have growing up, and soon after, an expectation that we’d excel in all of them. Piano festivals, football tournaments, math competitions, everything. From a young age I saw how hard my parents worked to give us these opportunities and so I raised the bar for myself to be a good role model for my brother. I made decisions for myself based on what I thought was best for my family’s future, and I was commended for it by my Peruvian family. In these tight-knit Latino circles, I wasn’t really asked what I wanted to do with my life because individualism isn’t really considered a value. I was only told to go to school and do well so I could support my family. For them, the families that stick together are successful together. Selflessness is an excellent quality to have. Individualism is selfish.

Alejandra poses with a flag at a soccer game.

I was afraid of failing at school because I thought my parents wanted more from me than was achievable. I didn’t understand that my parents were pushing me to see how far I could push my own limits. They saw my potential, saw that I could take what they gave me and create something even better for myself. They didn’t force me to become them, they taught me the tools I needed to make my own decisions about my own life. They probably didn’t expect me to take those skills and literally run with them, but it wasn’t until I “ran away” that I could see that I had those skills from the start. I returned from this trip very dirty and with zeros in my bank account but with a deeper understanding of what I can do with determination, hard work and no fear.

So here I am, exactly four years later. Since then I’ve plunged into my degrees, Geography BS and Spanish BA, two paths I chose myself. I was able to travel through university and study abroad, and this year several adventures await me in the form of conferences, panels and research projects. When the year is over and I graduate I just have to jump again. I’ve done it before, so I know I can do it again.