With love from Ecuador
Photo courtesy of Abby Phillips May 22, 2017
SCPAB’s first international student president, Maria Barriga, prepares to pass the torch
Few familiar with Maria Barriga’s effervescence would guess that she arrived at the University of Delaware intentionally alone, an ‘extreme introvert’ drawn here by a brightly colored pennant flag hanging on a wall in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
“I have been blessed with many wonderful SCPAB leaders over the years, but Maria is truly a different kind of fantastic,” said Meaghan Davidson, assistant director of the University Student Centers (USC) and co-advisor of SCPAB, the Student Centers Programming Advisory Board. “She cares about her work in a way that I’ve never seen before.”
The first international student to ever lead UD’s largest student-run programming board, Barriga recently won the Grossman Memorial Award at the USC’s 15th annual YoUDee Leadership Awards ceremony. Now approaching Commencement with a full but heavy heart, she details her memorable experiences and her advice for anyone afraid to lead in an interview with the Division of Student Life.
Q: How has your UD experience met or defied your expectations?
A: The extent of my college planning was that I would eventually transfer to a four-year school from Ecuador’s small, two-year Broward College campus. I had two parameters for choosing another school: I didn’t want to attend school in a place where I had family or other students that I knew, and I wanted to go to the northeast U.S. so that I could experience winter. I didn’t expect to have a lot of culture shock because Ecuador is very Americanized; we use the dollar, we watch a lot of the same TV shows and dress mostly the same, but a little more formal than Americans. Little things took getting used to, like no longer being legal to drink after having been legal for a year. I made friends with a bunch of the students on my transfer floor in Smyth, though, and found that we had many of the same experiences trying to orient ourselves to campus and figure things out.
Q: What experiences have been valuable to you during your time here?
A: All of my experiences outside of the classroom have been way more significant to me, even though I have enjoyed all of my classes and loved my psychology program and professors. School is not more than academics at home in Ecuador, and I didn’t know that I could do all the things I’m doing now. Student affairs, student life, student unions or any connections to the school outside of classes just don’t exist there the way that they do here. After leading SCPAB and working as a USC building manager, I know that student life is where my passion lies — these experiences are what resonate with me and are what I will talk and think about when I look back on UD.
What I have learned from working in the USC versus SCPAB, I can’t really separate because they are so intertwined. Interacting with clients and ensuring that they are as happy as they can be with what we have provided is my favorite part of the job. I appreciate the rare spontaneous inspiration that is sometimes required to keep things running smoothly. I actually got involved in HOLA before SCPAB, and they were welcoming right away with Hispanic music playing when I walked into their meeting. I noticed immediately that English was their language of choice and none of them were international students, but I met my first friends there and we are still close. My connection that I feel to the University of Delaware, and I really love UD, is because of my experiences and interactions with everyone that makes up Student Life.
Q: What’s the plan for life after UD?
A: Thanks to getting involved with SCPAB and the student centers, I just got a job overseeing student programmers at Adams State University in Colorado. I am excited to encounter new places and people again, and to work full-time in student life, but I also don’t know when I’ll be able to see my family again because of everything happening with U.S. international travel policy.
Q: What advice do you have for other international and/or transfer students?
A: Imagine what you could do if you weren’t afraid. I took a risk in coming here alone and another risk doing more than just classes — and I am a completely different person than I was three years ago. Growing as a leader and as a person go hand-in-hand. I could never have imagined being a leader, and I really like this person that I have grown into, someone who is happy and excited about stuff, who engages with others to learn about their feelings and interests. Explore more, and surround yourself with people who will inspire you to believe in yourself.
About the University Student Centers
The University Student Centers serve as campus community centers and unifying places for students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests of the University of Delaware. The USC offers diverse programming, events and services in support of exploration and personal growth, and provides inclusive opportunities and communities to foster University spirit, interpersonal connections, and leadership development.
About the Division of Student Life
The Division of Student Life includes the Career Services Center, Center for Black Culture, Center for Counseling and Student Development, New Student Orientation, Office of the Dean of Students, Office of Student Conduct, Residence Life and Housing, Student Diversity and Inclusion, Student Health Services, Student Services for Athletes, Student Wellness and Health Promotion, and the University Student Centers. For more information about Student Life, visit the website.