By Denise Moss
Special to The Sopris Sun
Angelique Pretorius is starting a new life, one free of the helplessness she suffered during her entire childhood in South Africa. At 25 years old, she has made her way to America and started her college education. That’s step one. But step two, the ability to stay here and continue her studies, is proving to be far more difficult.
Companies sponsoring au pairs on a J1 Visa offer online classes in preparation for lower level jobs, but they discourage college level courses that fulfill degree requirements. Pretorius pushed back in order to attend Colorado Mountain College. For her, the opportunity to go to college fulfills a dream worth fighting for. “It has always been my biggest dream and desire to become a psychologist and have my own practice one day. I want to help survivors like myself,” she explains.
While working full time, her freshman year resulted in a 4.0 GPA and a place on the President’s List. Because I was her English Composition teacher, I became privy to both her story and her potential. I was also graced with her amazing laugh and seeing the friendships she built during class discussions. However, it was this opening paragraph in a letter she wrote that grabbed my heart:
“I have a long, sad, and disturbing story about the tough childhood that I had to survive and escape, but I am not going to tell this story, because I don’t want it to define me or use it to get what I want. I want to work for what I want in life.”
Unfortunately, she makes far too little money as an au pair and cannot continue in her credit courses if she stays in that job. Standard J1 Visas do not allow workers to attend any college courses. Therefore, she is applying for an F1 Student Visa. This visa does not give her “in state” tuition. It also does not allow her to work more than 20 hours a week, and employment must be on campus at a far lower wage than we typically see in our valley. The toughest part to overcome is that the visa requires a $36,000 guarantee so that the government can verify available funding to pay tuition and living expenses.
We hear, almost daily, about the complications with the United States’ visa process. Pretorius is not an illegal immigrant or a “dreamer,” but the process to stay may be just as frustrating. For now, she is simply a young woman with an indomitable spirit who desperately wants an education. “The reason why I want to pursue an education in the U.S. is because of the opportunities and safety here. I do not have the opportunity to go to college in South Africa. Remaining in the United States permanently is my dream. I feel confident that I can be valuable and make a difference if given the chance to continue my studies at CMC and, later, a four-year school.”
English teachers will tell you that we learn our students’ “voices” through their writings. We determine what they value, how their logic leads them to dissect complicated rhetoric, and where their empathy intersects with the greater good for us all. I have always felt lucky to be in a profession that allows me these windows. It reinforces that it “takes a village” to make the world a better place, even if it means helping one person at a time.
I have started a “gofundme” page for Angelique. Along with applications for scholarships and grants from local non-profits, she is hoping to raise enough money to attain her F1 visa. Her current visa expires in September, and she is required to return to her home country for three months where she will apply to return as a student. She has saved money for the visa fees and has her plane ticket back to the U.S. in time for the spring 2024 semester. She has housing lined up with a friend. I expect to see her infectious smile on campus, knowing she is working hard for the success and happiness she so desires.
To help Angelique, please contribute at this link: www.bit.ly/AngeliqueCMC