Victor Fights for Success

EXP Internship Program Gives Victor the Confidence He Needs to Succeed

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Victor Mendez is the recipient of the 2019 Carol Rowen 180 Award at EXP’s Oceans of Opportunity Dinner & Scholarship Celebration on April 4th, 2019.

The Carol Rowen 180 Degree Award is named after EXP’s founder. Each year our teachers nominate one student who has overcome significant challenges to turn their life around in a positive direction while participating in an EXP-supported pathway.

Here’s Victor’s acceptance speech:

Four years ago, I had the chance to finally reunite with my mom in the U.S. As you can imagine, after so long, I was really excited and happy to be with her again. At the same time, I was really scared of moving to a new country where the language they spoke was different from mine.

My first year in the U.S. was a nightmare. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I constantly felt frustrated because I was not able to communicate with most of my teachers. Although I was now with my mom, I really missed the rest of my family in Mexico. I didn't see a future for myself in the so called “land of opportunity.”

Due to my frustration, I had many disagreements and arguments with my mom. I tried to convince her to return to our home in Mexico. I did not enjoy being here at all. I thought, since I was unable to talk to people, the most I was going to be able to achieve was graduating high school and getting a job with my mom at the food factory where she works.

You see, that was the problem. I was allowing English to hold me back and put me down in a negative way. I was so focused on the problem that I was not doing anything about it. In other words, I was the problem. But that was a good thing, because that meant that I was also the solution.

I decided to start making changes in my life. I began making friends who only spoke English, I started to read books in English and write down the words that I didn't understand in order to improve my vocabulary, I would speak in front of a mirror to improve my pronunciation. I pretty much took any opportunity I could to improve myself. 

My junior year, I decided to take a chance and participate in the EXP (formerly ITEP) Internship Program. Surprisingly, I received an internship through EXP at the Battleship IOWA. For those who don’t know, the Battleship IOWA is a museum that is docked at the entrance of San Pedro. My job involved talking to a lot of people every day. At the beginning of my internship, I saw this as a challenge, but with the support from Mr. Craig and all the staff at the Battleship, I slowly started to become more confident. After a while, I was no longer afraid to talk to all the visitors on the Battleship. I remember the first time I had to make an announcement in the Battleship over the intercom I tried to avoid it at all costs, but with the support from my friends at the battleship, I was able to step up and do it.

I really enjoyed my time on the Battleship IOWA, I had a job that made me want to get out of bed every day even if that meant that I had to ride my bike one hour a day to get there. I have to say that if it wasn't for EXP, I would’ve never had the chance to overcome my fears, improve my English language skills, and the opportunity to feel what it is like to have a job that I really enjoy.

Today, I can look back at my first year in the U.S. and I can say that I have come a long way. I would never be standing here if it wasn’t for all the support that I received from my friends, my teachers, Ms. Bird, Mr. Craig, and of course, EXP. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story with all of you today.

Your support gives EXP students like Victor a chance to expand their potential and explore careers through workshops and internships.

After graduation Victor will be a summer intern at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Engineering Department. Victor has been accepted to CSU Long Beach and is eagerly awaiting an admissions decision from UCLA. His goal is to pursue a career in computer science or aerospace engineering.

Oakley Boren