Shenandoah Profiles: From Venezuela to Winchester
By: June Wambua and Angela Garcia
Unconventional. Ambitious. Empathetic. This is how Shenandoah University Freshman student Andrés (Andy) Espinoza describes himself. There is a lot more to this film student than meets the eye. Andy brings something unique to the Shenandoah community. “Actually, I come from Venezuela,” he adds.
Andy and his family moved to the United States to escape the political and economic crisis in his home country. Andy lived in Valencia, which is two hours away from the capital city of Caracas “I moved from there almost a year ago.” Many Venezuelans have left the country in search of a better future.
The crisis in Venezuela has worsened over the years. Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1999. During his presidential rule he cut ties with the United States and allied with Russia and China. The alliance helped Venezuela economically. Chavez gained power through the alliance, and shortly before his death he positioned Maduro to be the next president. The Maduro regime has caused a political and economic crisis that has led to many fleeing the country.
Andy has had first-hand experience with the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. “Usually when I talk about it with others, they’re just shocked. when I look at it in hindsight, it is shocking.” Scarcity, rationing, hyper-inflation, and power outages were common problems for Andy and his family. Power outages would last 75-90 hours. “In my apartment building we didn’t have water on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Andy mentions how he used to store water. “The more water you store, the more likely that mosquitoes will contaminate the water supply.”
These problems caused Andy and his family to leave the country in search of a better future.
Moving to another country is not easy, and Andy faced many obstacles. Andy mentions that the food is different. “To me it’s just very mild or very stale, or very spicy, and I’m not a spicy person!” He describes his first time at Taco Bell and Chipotle, in which he was disappointed with the food. “I guess I’m used to food with more seasoning.”
The language barrier is an obstacle for many who move to another country. However, the language barrier was not an issue for Andy. He attended an international school in Venezuela, that followed the American system. He studied there for most of his life and that is where he learned English.
Andy’s immigration status was another obstacle that he faced. “I don’t fit into just one category. Technically, I guess I aman immigrant. According to what my visa says, I am a non-immigrant. But then again, I am someone who left the country so I am considered a refugee. But then colleges would consider me an international student.”
The application process was the biggest obstacle in his college application process. His legal status has caused issues in trying to receive Federal aid. “I can’t apply for FAFSA, so that was out of the picture.” He focused on applying to in-state institutions and was accepted. However, he faced another hurdle. “Because of my status and because I wasn’t here for a year, I was not considered for in-state tuition.” Through the college application process Shenandoah was able to help Andy with his financial aid, for which he is thankful.
Because of his legal status, Andy is currently unable to get a job. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is required. “I want to work to get money, but in order to get the work from it, I need money to pay for that. It kinda sucks when you’re given an opportunity and you want to take it but you can’t.” When he finally gets the chance, Andy would like to work at the Office of Marketing and Communication at Shenandoah University.
Despite the struggles, Andy is grateful to be in the US and a member of the Shenandoah University Community. He is a film studies major. Post-graduation, Andy hopes to pursue a career in short films. When asked about his favorite genre, he wants to explore the surreal. “I always want there to be an element that’s out of the ordinary,” he says.
We asked Andy about his motivation. “The fact that I got here,” he says “Because years ago, I did not think I would be here, In fact months ago when I was filling out the paperwork to leave the country, I wasn’t sure how it would be to move here. The fact that I was able to make that happen is enough to drive me. If I can do that with the skills I have, then I can do so much more and I can impact so many people. If I can, many other people can”
Andy Espinoza is one of many students that brings diversity to the Shenandoah community. We are grateful that he shared his experiences and wish him the best of luck with his film aspirations.