Two years ago, Valentina Atehortua moved thousands of miles away from her home in Colombia, arriving in Chicago just months before COVID-19 did. As she adjusted to the cultural differences of living in a new country during a stay-at-home order, she was able to build a community at Truman College.

Read Valentina’s story in her own words below:

Growing up in Colombia, I was surrounded by music. My mother played it frequently until it became an essential part of my life and my educational journey. I wasn’t just listening to music, I was learning from it—English, vocabulary, and even math.

So when I graduated from high school, it felt like a natural next step to pursue a career in music therapy—a profession where I’d be able to make an impact for people of all ages by exposing them to music, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a clear path for advancing my education in music therapy in my home country, and I moved to Chicago to change that.

Originally, I came here to gain tools and skills to bring back to Colombia in order to help my community and society in general. And on a personal level, I wanted to build my own character by exploring the cultural differences between the countries.

To accomplish both goals, I knew I needed to improve my English first. A friend I met near my new home in Ravenswood suggested Truman College, where I started taking English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in fall 2019. Those ESL courses quickly turned into college credit courses thanks to the support and encouragement of my instructors and transition specialist. Soon, I was able to earn my basic certificate in Early Childhood Education and then move on to my associate degree through the Gateway Program.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago, I thought I’d never be able to get into college level courses—that wasn’t even one of my expectations. Now, I’m planning to transfer to a four-year university to complete my bachelor’s degree and thinking about which path I should take to pursue my master’s degree in music therapy.

My college journey hasn’t been easy—I moved away from my family and friends and, just months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making it difficult to adjust and truly feel at home here in Chicago. But at every step of the way, Truman College has supported me, connecting me to resources like scholarships, student services, and student organizations, and importantly, connecting me to a community.

At Truman, I found a place where I can not only improve my personal and professional skills, but a place that values my contributions as a Latina. Even thousands of miles away, I still feel at home.