Fitting in, Setting Boundaries, and Creating Community!
Elena Deras reflects on her experience as a student and Peer Advocate Leader (PAL)Jan 23, 2023
My name is Elena Deras, and I am a first-gen college student.
I was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico to two immigrant parents from El Salvador. This is my third year being a PAL at CU Denver, and I am forever grateful for the different opportunities, resources, experiences, and people it has introduced me to. I also work in retail as a side job, and am also grateful for the different community experiences it has also given me. My interests lie primarily in exploring immigrant rights and helping people.
Most of the challenges and impactful experiences I have had at CU Denver come from being a PAL. Being a PAL has helped me step out of my comfort zone by becoming aware of the different resources the school has, speaking with students of different ages and backgrounds, making plans with different members, and developing my social, communication, and organization skills. One of the biggest challenges I had to work on when I was a PAL for the first time was setting up boundaries. Understanding the importance of boundaries was also a life lesson for myself and my mental health. I realized I couldn’t continue giving up the free time I had for the sake of others. It was also important to me to have time for myself. One thing I struggled with in high school was feeling like I didn’t fit in. Being at CU Denver, and the experience of being in college overall, helped me realize that life goes on, and not everyone in the world will be someone you can please. Professors, co-workers, peers, friends, and even strangers around CU Denver and work have taught me that I’m a little bit on my own here, and it’s up to me to continue building the bridge I want to cross. I am grateful to say that I haven’t had to face the challenges fully on my own. I have had different forms of support for my mental health, education, and personal life, especially from my close friends (who some are co-workers), and my supervisor.
I have found a small community at CU Denver through PAL. PAL has given me the opportunity to meet different people that I can rely on. Many of my co-workers have become some of my closest friends. The words grateful and thankful are not enough to describe how I feel, but I am grateful for CU Denver for bringing me the people around me. I always think about the alternate college life I had in mind. I was planning on moving to Pennsylvania for college, but every time I think about that life, I shudder in fear. I can’t imagine me being from a small city from New Mexico in a very different and big, city state like Pennsylvania. Every time I enter the doors to my office on campus and look at my friends, I realize I am exactly where I was always meant to be. Deciding to continue my education right after high school is something I don’t regret. Even if I wish I had made some different choices before coming here and during the time I’ve been here, the community I have found here has shown me that there is hope for change and that I do belong!