When Gabriela Castro, 16, set out to expand her horizons, she had no idea that it would take her over 5,150 miles away from home.
Castro, a junior from San Luis High School, was recently selected to participate in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at the United World College in Flekke, Norway.
“I've always really been independent, so in a way I'm nervous and I know that's normal, but I'm more excited than nervous,” she said.
Castro was also recently informed that she had been awarded the Davis Scholarship, which covers tuition, room and board for the two years of the UWC Red Cross Nordic program. She said that she is currently applying for additional financial aid to cover travel and personal expenses as well as insurance but she won't find out until June if she qualifies. She noted that she plans to work over the summer and do fundraisers as necessary.
“I felt completely blessed, I couldn't even believe it,” Castro said about being chosen. “It's something that I didn't think was possible, I've never known somebody from where I'm from that's accomplished that. I'm really proud of myself and I know that I'm going to do a good job.”
During her interview in Albuquerque, N.M., she was told that 600 people applied for the program but only 120 were awarded an interview. From that number, only 50 from the U.S. are accepted and only 24 have the opportunity to attend one of UWC's colleges located abroad.
Staff and faculty in addition to parents helped Castro raise the $400 to make the trip for the interview and her guidance counselor Yolanda Conroy said that they plan to continue to help her fundraise in any way they can. Castro said that the college she will be attending, sponsored by Nordic government and the Red Cross, focuses specifically on humanitarian and environmental issues.
Ever since she was a young girl, she said she has been interested in further developing her cultural understanding of the world.
“I told my parents that I wanted to apply in the beginning and they didn't really feel comfortable because coming from a Mexican family, we're really close knit and it wasn't easy, but my mom understands the importance of education and so she let me do the interview,” she said.
As part of the application process, Castro was required to write an essay of a local, national or international concern she had.
“I wrote about education and how it really isn't valued anymore and how I wanted to help make education available to people like it is in the U.S.,” she said. “I want to be able to provide that all over the world, but specifically I would want to concentrate in Mexico because I personally experienced the lack of guidance and support that teens undergo day after day.”
Castro currently holds a 4.0 weighted GPA and is No. 5 in her class of 614 students. In addition to volunteering in the community, she has been involved in clubs including National Honors Society and Future Business Leaders of America as well as the Building a New Generation club where she tutors other students.
She said that she is interested in attending universities such as Columbia, Oxford or Cambridge after completing the UWC Red Cross Nordic program.
In regards to being a part of the program, she said, “I'm really hoping it's going to help me because I understand that if I want to go to the universities that I want to go to, I need to be more independent and begin to understand people, because all my life I've only been here. I've always been interested in all of the traditions and all of the beliefs and I know that it's going to make me a better person.
“... I feel really blessed and I hope that by this accomplishment I can inspire other people to apply, especially in this area, to understand that it is possible and you need commitment and motivation and the will and anything is possible, the sky is the limit.”
Donations can be made to First Bank of Yuma to help Castro with travel and personal expenses to the San Luis Talented Youth account no. 0530000132 in attention to Gabriela Castro, 645 N. 1st Ave., San Luis, AZ 85346. For more information, contact Conroy at 502-6073.
Visit https://uwcrcn.no/index.html for more information about UWC Red Cross Nordic.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.