The Truth Behind the American Dream: ‘Al Mal Tiempo Buena Cara’


Andrés Escobar and Paula Castellanos are international students from Bogotá, Colombia who are both double majoring in psychology and social work at Warren Wilson College.


The American dream: the idea by which many people immigrate to America for a better future. This idea is the reason why families leave everything behind them, the cause of many social problems and racial profiling. 

 Andrés Escobar: Well, Paula, as minorities I think it is important to share our thoughts about immigration in America. It is important to consider what advantages and disadvantages a foreigner might encounter while being abroad, especially cultural-wise.   

Paula Castellanos: Indeed, Andrés. When talking about traveling abroad people think that the hardest aspect is choosing the place that’s more suitable for you. What they don’t realize is that there’s so much more behind it. Not everyone will greet you as planned, and you will face more challenges along the way. 

Andrés: You phrased it perfectly. When I think about challenges in this country it is important because many barriers hold me back in things I want to do. It is difficult for international students and immigrants that want to work, experience, and stay in America due to immigration requirements and costs to reach citizenship. Starting from the F visa (student) until citizenship, the process cost is between $8000 to $12,000 just to say I’m American.   

Paula: Let me ask you this, why did you decide to study abroad? I know I did it for a better future. But the real question here is, what does that ‘better future’ look like?

Andrés: Like you, I did it for a better future. What I didn’t expect was to become a minority, when in my country I was just like everyone else. In America, I learned about racism and the intersectionalities between marginalized groups. In my country, we all know we are ‘mestizos’ and social hierarchies are not classified by skin color but by socioeconomic status. Paula, how do you manage to be a minority in the United States?

Paula: Do you want the truth? Honestly, I think after a while I just stopped caring. I know who I am and that’s what matters. I will always be proud of who I am and where I came from. My advice to anyone who is a minority in this country is to never forget your roots and never become who society wants you to be. 

Andrés: I agree with you. As a minority, you need to be on top of everything so you don’t fall in the process of succeeding in a white man’s country. 

For you, does the American dream make sense?

Paula: I’m not going to sugarcoat the situation, don’t get me wrong, I am really lucky to be able to study here in the USA, but believe me, the “American Dream” does not look like the Disney movies. 

Andrés: Wait, What? I thought the American dream was like fairy tales and happy endings. I thought suffering did not exist, but guess what? There is suffering. 

Paula: Of course, do you remember our conversation with Dr. Lucy Lawrence, our social work professor, about the barriers minorities face in this country? It’s not as easy as it looks. There are resources, but behind them, a lot of requirements. To be a candidate for them you must check all the boxes. 

Andrés: Yes I remember. Sadly, it is difficult for us to be involved in the American culture. On the other hand, when ‘Gringos’ travel abroad they are set at the top because they are seen as successful, wealthy, and prestigious people just by the fact that the United States sells the image of the perfect country. 

Paula: Let me add something, you guys have to understand that white doesn’t mean American, the same way Hispanics are not all ‘trigueños.’

Andres: For sure, I think the image Americans have towards Latinx is far from the truth. 

Paula: You are probably not going to believe what happened to me while having a conversation with one of my American friends, Izzy, back in High School. I was showing her pictures from my friends back home (Colombia) and my friend Maria came up. She’s white, blue-eyed … you know the rest. Izzy looked at me and couldn’t help to ask me if she was American. I remember her exact words were, “How is she Colombian? She’s WHITE.” I believe that day she learned something new; she learned that whites aren’t all Americans. 

Andrés: It’s funny because something similar happened to me. During my senior year of high school in Colombia, one of the academic coordinators of the school, an American, was giving a lecture about biology and how weird it was for him to be white in Colombia. I remember he said to me that I was a ‘freak of nature’ because I had green eyes and white skin. For him, it was difficult to understand that not all Colombian people were indigenous or ‘trigueños.’

Paula: We could probably sit here all day talking to each other about our experiences, stories that are made up by individuals’ ignorance — stories we didn’t even ask for in the first place. 

Andrés: That is true. But on the bright side, there is a lot of room for improvement. Being in a place like WWC, that promotes social and economic justice within our community, gives me a feeling that people do care about us. 

Paula: It’s been 5 years since I moved to the US, and the hardest part was my first 2 years. I honestly hated my high school, in Raleigh, North Carolina. With so much division between races, it was all very shocking to experience. But I have to say, I do see improvement studying at WWC, even though I agree there’s room for improvement. I feel a little more comfortable showing who I am and being proud of myself. 

Andrés: Agreed, 2 years have passed since I arrived in this country. I left ‘mi casa’ being 17 years old, and it has been challenging because everything was new to me. However, I see WWC as my home now. I encourage students that want to go abroad to experience by themselves because most of the time places have a negative story that is implemented by American prejudice, like Colombia. 

Paula: For sure Andrés. It is important to remember that even though it is challenging, it’s also very rewarding. I know we are double majoring in psychology and social work, these majors make us take a closer look at what needs change, or what needs improvement. We can take that and continue our studies with the knowledge that we have been collecting throughout our pathway. 

Andrés: That’s right, I think being foreign in the U.S is rewarding because we can educate people about our country’s history, share our culture, promote bilingualism and share our personal experiences.

Paula: Even though it’s all been a rollercoaster of emotions, I do believe it’s important to leave our bubble and take the opportunity of studying abroad. Even when encountering challenges, you will learn so much about yourself, and you will grow tremendously. You will find new ways to face them and keep moving forward.  

Andrés: For me, one of the best experiences of my life was going to Europe. I stayed 2 months traveling all around that continent, putting my English and French skills to play, and learning about culture and history by myself. The  best way to learn a language is by immersing yourself in a culture — that is the best advice I can give.

Paula: It looks like anyone that has the opportunity to go abroad should take it. Make the best out of the experience and learn new things. Be open-minded to new experiences even when encountering obstacles, understanding that these will not be forever. ‘Al mal tiempo buena cara,’ it will all be worth it, once we achieve our goals.

Andrés: Not to mention, here at WWC there are lots of opportunities and resources such as the Global Engagement Office (GEO) and the Spanish Crew. I think my crew, the GEO, and the college faculty have made my sacrifices worth it.