For Charlinda, college and financial aid applications seemed easy — leaving her Navajo reservation didn't. Having spent her entire life there, she was nervous about leaving her family and community for a strange place with many different kinds of people. She worried about feeling like an outsider. "Growing up, I was kind of sheltered, so I felt like I had a disadvantage."
During her first week on campus, Charlinda's college experience seemed to be living up to her fears. She was quiet in class, kept to herself and didn't want to make friends. And she was overwhelmed by the large number of students in her classes. "I called my mom and I started crying, I … just wanted to go home."
Charlinda eventually learned about student organizations designed especially for Native Americans. Through these, she found mentors, tutors and Native American upperclassmen who offered valuable advice. Now she feels right at home. "I have a second family [at] the Native American Student Affairs cultural center, which I am highly thankful for."
With the support of her new community, Charlinda gained the confidence to come out of her shell. She joined clubs and organizations and is now very outgoing. Charlinda advises students trying to balance their own culture with others to learn about other people and to challenge any negative stereotypes about their own culture.
With three years under her belt, Charlinda is not only doing well academically but is helping to bring back a Native American sorority. "I am growing as a person each day. I have so much pride in my status as a student."
As a student recruiter, Charlinda uses her own story as an example to help other students realize their college dreams. She feels a sense of accomplishment when she runs into students who were afraid when she first met them, but are now thriving at college. "I don't see a lot of Native students going to college. A lot of them say they can't make it, and I want to be the person who helps them go."