My Ascend Story – Marifer Zacarias
By MLT Ascend Scholar Mariafernanda “Marifer” Zacarias
Meet MLT Ascend Scholar Marifer Zacarias, a junior at American University. Marifer shares how her Ascend coaches helped her gain the confidence to go after new opportunities.
I grew up on the border of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. In middle school and high school I was living in a drug war zone. As a teenager, I saw a lot of death, organized crime, and corruption. People I knew were kidnapped. My uncle was murdered, and my family didn’t find his body for a week. I experienced a lot of sorrow.
Growing up in that environment, I felt a fire burning inside me. I used the pain to fuel me. I decided I wanted to find solutions to the violence and bridge communities. Now I’m studying International Relations at American University.
When I got to Washington, DC the summer after high school graduation, I was 17 years old, alone, and feeling homesick. Being connected to my MLT Ascend coach felt like God’s plan for me. As soon as I went to the MLT Ascend orientation, I felt supported, welcomed, and encouraged. MLT Ascend became part of my DC family.
My Ascend coaches have helped me in so many ways. Financially, I had to learn how to open a bank account, make a budget, and figure out rent and expenses–everything I needed to know in order to keep myself in school. Now, I am even able to give money back to my mom each month. It’s not much, but it’s something!
Before MLT Ascend, it was easy to get overwhelmed. I felt I didn’t have enough experience, that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to go after opportunities. Sometimes, I would call my coach and say, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” She would always say, “Take a deep breath.” Her willingness to share her life experiences, skills, and connections motivated me to keep going.
My coach helped me realize all I have to offer and sharpened my professional skills. She taught me to not be afraid to go after opportunities, and say to myself, “What do I have to lose? Just go for it!” Through my coach’s encouragement and support, I got my internships with the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican Institute.
I am where I am today because I was offered a lot of support. That’s why I want to give back. Right now, I mentor incoming first-generation students through AU’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion. I help them adjust to college. I like being able to tell the kids, “Call me, I’m there for you.”
My big dream is to help create peace in Latin America. I want to give people the power to make changes within their own country. I know it may take generations, but I want to do my part.
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