Inspiring Stories

Written by Sofía Córdoba via LinkedIn – March 28 2020

This is my brother Sebastián. At the age of 30, he has just completed his PhD in psychology from De Montfort University in the UK, which he defended remotely due to COVID-19. His dissertation explored non-binary gender identities.

By the way, Britain is the fifth country he’s lived in, if I’m counting correctly.

Do you think he’s lived a privileged life?

That couldn’t be further from the truth… Our mom worked for a bank that allowed us to stay in a foreclosed home so we could sort of “care” for it. The bank had kicked out the previous owners for not paying their mortgage, so my mom, my two brothers, and I lived in a house with no doors, no finished floors, or any type of finishing, because the previous owners had taken everything with them – either to sell or to regain a sense of dignity.

As I entered university, which I financed half with scholarships and half with loans that I only recently paid off (15 years after graduating), our mom had to make a difficult decision: Which one of her sons would she still pay for to attend private school?  

She decided that, of course, both of them had to carry on attending school. So, in order to get one of her sons the opportunity to access a free, public education, she queued up at 4 am at the department of education in Bogotá. She did this for Sebastián. Yes, the same Sebastián who finished his doctorate at a British university today.

Are you still thinking about donating your kidneys so that you can pay your children’s fees at the best school in the city, because that it will guarantee their future?

Once he graduated high school, my mom and brothers emigrated to the US. Sebastian had to then go back to high school and finish 12th grade – which does not exist in Colombia. Many would say this was a waste of time… How many of us have not just wasted time? But this was, in fact, the year that would define Sebastian – not only as a person, but also as the fundamental driver that would lead him to accomplish his doctoral studies now.

He started university at California State University Long Beach (where Steven Spielberg and many other famous people had matriculated) and was awarded a scholarship. He was surrounded by many students who were well-off financially. But because he did not have much money, Sebastian had to share not only apartments but also rooms with some of his peers (read: suffer). Some of these roommates did not understand the concept of privacy.

Sebastian’s first job: Cashier at a gas station, working the night-shift. There, he witnessed the worst realities of Los Angeles, the ones not pictured in Hollywood movies: madness, illicit sex, and retribution. These words could probably summarize many of the things he witnessed.

After finishing his bachelor’s degree, he decided that borders are not determined by countries. I bet your children think that borders are fixed, so show them otherwise – and do not expect them to follow your footsteps.

His life in the other countries is much more recent, but not less impactful. Lastly, I would like to remind you that privilege does not equal success and that, like Sebastián, there are many people in the world who have limited resources but unlimited minds. If you are their parent or sibling, you should help them spread their wings. You will see that they will certainly serve humanity through their achievements.  

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