Tag: Hurricane María


From PR to AZ – “It Was Impossible to Not Take the Opportunity”

Photo courtesy of Adriana Castillo

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For Adriana Castillo the hurricane meant suffering and loss. But it also presented an opportunity. Four months after the storm Castillo received an invitation from Arizona State University (ASU) to continue her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in international relations.

Castillo counts the days when she will see her parents again. Her goal in Arizona is to gain skills and experience to bring back to the island. “We are not here forgetting about what happened and what is happening. My goal is to prepare myself and return to Puerto Rico and give back what it has given me for many years,” she said.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Why did you decide to move to the United States?

The reason was the hurricane. I studied at the University of Puerto Rico (UPRM), at the Mayagüez campus, and after [Hurricane Maria] it was closed for like two months. My priority has always been my studies. [But] the lack of water, power, Internet, gasoline, and communication, made my bachelor’s degree become less important because I was focused on surviving. After a crisis like the one we went through life is never the same.

How did the transfer process happen?

I was participating in a study about energy governance at the UPRM, a multidisciplinary study in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU).  My mentor had graduated from there — and after the study the president of the ASU asked my professor for a list of students that wished to continue their studies there.  They offered us residence, medical insurance, and tuition. With the crisis and the needs I had in Puerto Rico, it was impossible not to take advantage of the opportunity.

What have been the biggest challenges since you made that decision?

Leaving my family was the hardest one. My parents were my biggest fear, leaving them by themselves. Watching the news showing that things are getting worse every day makes me want to be in my country. The cultural shock is also a big challenge. Here [in Arizona] we are like 80,000 students from different parts of the world.

How have you adapted to those changes and challenges?

What has helped me adapt is a group of friends from Puerto Rico that came here with me. We are 11, and though there are only a few of us, we keep the culture alive. We are a small community. The university has helped a lot too. They offer psychological therapy, counseling and other services that help us get through the day-to-day. Also, the school of international studies has been supporting us and has been very welcoming.

Have your professional plans changed after the hurricane?

Circumstances changed, but not my goals. I always wanted to come to Arizona to earn a master’s degree, so this helps me get used to it earlier — though my heart is still in Puerto Rico, in my alma mater.

De Puerto Rico a Arizona:  “Era imposible no aprovechar la oportunidad”

Para la puertorriqueña Adriana Castillo, el huracán significó sufrimiento y pérdida. Pero al mismo tiempo una oportunidad. Cuatro meses después del huracán, Castillo recibió una invitación de la Universidad del Estado de Arizona (ASU) para continuar su bachillerato en Ciencias Políticas y una concentración menor en Estudios Transfronterizos.

Castillo cuenta los días para volver a ver a sus padres. Su propósito en Arizona es capacitarse y ganar varios años de experiencia para regresar a la Isla. “No estamos acá olvidándonos de lo que está sucediendo y de lo que sucedió. Mi meta es prepararme y regresar para devolverle a Puerto Rico lo que por muchos años me dio a mí”, dijo la estudiante.

¿Por qué decidiste mudarte a Estados Unidos?

La razón exacta fue el huracán. Estudiaba en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, en el recinto de Mayagüez (UPRM), que luego de [el huracán] María estuvo cerrada como dos meses. Mi prioridad siempre ha sido mis estudios. [Pero] La falta de agua, luz, internet, gasolina, comunicación, hicieron que mi bachillerato pasara a segundo plano porque todo estaba enfocado en sobrevivir. Después de una crisis como la que pasamos, la vida no sigue siendo igual jamás.

Photo courtesy of Adriana Castillo

¿Cómo se dio el proceso del traslado?

En la UPRM estaba participando de una investigación con gobernanzas energéticas y era un estudio multidisciplinario. La investigación era en conjunto con la Universidad de Arizona — mi mentor se había graduado de allí —  y luego de la investigación, el presidente de aquí (ASU) le pidió a mi profesor una lista de estudiantes que deseaban seguir sus estudios aquí. En la invitación, nos ofrecieron hospedaje, plan médico y matrícula. Con la crisis y todas las necesidades que estaba pasando en Puerto Rico, era imposible no aprovechar la oportunidad.

¿Cuáles han sido los mayores retos desde que tomaste la decisión?

Dejar a mi familia fue lo más difícil. Mis padres eran mi mayor miedo, dejarlos solos. Mientras vea en las noticias que las cosas van de mal en peor, [eso] ata emociones de querer estar en mi país. El choque cultural también es un gran reto. Aquí [en Arizona] somos como 80 mil estudiantes de diferentes partes del mundo.

¿Cómo te has adaptado a esos cambios y retos?

Lo que me ha ayudado adaptarme es un grupo de amistades de Puerto Rico que vinimos para acá. Somos once, y aunque pocos, mantenemos la cultura. Somos como una pequeña comunidad. La universidad ha ayudado mucho también. Nos ofrecen terapias psicológicas, consejería, y otros servicios que nos sirven para seguir el día a día. Además, la escuela de estudios transfronterizos se mantiene apoyándonos y ha sido bien acogedora.

¿Cambiaron tus planes profesionales luego del huracán?

Las circunstancias cambiaron, pero la meta no. Siempre quería venir a Arizona a estudiar la maestría, así que esto me ayudó a acoplarme antes — aunque mi corazón sigue en Puerto Rico, en mi alma máter.

This story was written by Shaina Cabán.

This story was part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and journalism students at  Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.


From Spain to Puerto Rico – “From All the Bad Experiences I Have Learned A Lot”

Photo courtesy of Mercedes Mateos Andrés

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Mercedes Mateos Andrés, a 21-year-old student from Spain, began an exchange program in Puerto Rico in August 2017. Since then she’s been studying for her bachelor’s degree in publicity and public relations at the la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) and lives in student housing.

After Hurricane Maria, many exchange students decided to go back to their home country. But Mateos made a different decision, extending her stay on the island in order to help out, with the hope of seeing Puerto Rico reborn.

Why did you decide to stay instead of going back to your country like other exchange students?

Above all else, it was not being able to enjoy this beautiful country. There was so much I hadn’t seen and I didn’t want to miss the chance. [Hurricane] Maria made us lose two months of the exchange program and I had the opportunity to get those months back. And I thought that it was the best option; life is too short not to take advantage of these opportunities.

What brought you to Puerto Rico to study?

What brought me to Puerto Rico wasn’t really the academic aspect, it was more the cultural aspect. I wanted to go to a place with traditions, landscapes and history different from Spain, since everything that is close [in Europe] is similar. I wanted to learn about other realities and perspectives; you learn from diversity.

How did you get through the hurricane as an exchange student?

The hurricane was something hard to experience because none of us were expecting it. No one was mentally ready for something like that, even less so coming from Spain, a country where natural disasters are uncommon. It wasn’t just my life that was paralyzed, but the entire country. Frustration is another feeling that stands out — to see chaos, need, desperation, and not being able to do anything to help those in need. Not being able to leave or knowing when it will end. Obviously, it hasn’t been the best experience, but from all the bad experiences I have learned a lot.

Did your life change in some way?

As I have said before, I have learned a lot from it. I think no one in the First World thinks that something so basic like water or power can be scarce. In situations like these no one would know how to manage. But I have lived through it and I have learned to value something so basic. Another point that has given me something to think about is how little information that was given out to the rest of the world. No one in Spain knew what happened exactly, or the aftermath of the hurricane. It was a real crisis that, for for most of the world, did not exist — and that should change in every type of conflict or disaster, so people are able to help and give support.

De España a Puerto Rico:  “De todo lo malo vivido he aprendido mucho”

Mercedes Mateos Andrés, estudiante española de 21 años, comenzó un intercambio académico en Puerto Rico en el mes de agosto. Desde entonces estudia un bachillerato de Publicidad y Relaciones Públicas en la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) y vive en la residencia de los alumnos.

Tras el paso del huracán, muchos estudiantes de intercambio decidieron regresar a su país dadas las condiciones de vida en las que se encontraban. Pero Mateos decidió lo contrario, extendiendo su estancia en el país para poder quedarse más tiempo ayudando, con la esperanza de ver a Puerto Rico renacer.

¿Por qué decidiste quedarte en vez de regresar a tu país, como otros estudiantes de intercambio?

Sobre todo, fue no haber podido disfrutar de este precioso país. Había tanto que no había visto que no me quería quedar con las ganas. [El  huracán] María nos hizo perder dos meses del intercambio y yo tenía la oportunidad de poder recuperarlos. Y creí que era la mejor opción; la vida es muy corta para no aprovechar estas oportunidades.

¿Qué es lo que te trajo a estudiar a Puerto Rico?

Realmente lo que me trajo a estudiar a Puerto Rico no fue tanto lo académico, fue más lo cultural. Quería ir a un sitio con costumbres, paisajes e historia diferente a España, ya que todo lo que está cerca [en Europa] es parecido. Quería saber de otras realidades y puntos de vista; de la diversidad se aprende.

¿Cómo viviste el huracán siendo estudiante de intercambio?

El huracán fue algo duro porque ninguno de nosotros nos lo esperábamos. Nadie estaba preparado psicológicamente para algo así, y menos viniendo de España, un país donde las catástrofes naturales no son nada comunes. Ya no era mi vida paralizada, sino un país entero. Frustración es otro sentimiento que también es destacable — ver caos, necesidad, desesperación, y no poder hacer nada para ayudar a los que necesitan. Ni poder irte, ni saber cuándo todo acabará. Obviamente no ha sido la mejor experiencia de mi vida, pero sí de todo lo malo vivido he aprendido mucho.

¿Cambió tu vida en algún aspecto?

Como he dicho con anterioridad, he aprendido mucho de ello. Creo que nadie del primer mundo piensa que algo tan básico como el agua o la luz les puedan llegar a faltar. En situaciones así, nadie sabría cómo poder ingeniárselas. Pero yo he vivido eso y he aprendido a valorar algo tan básico. Otro punto que me ha dado qué pensar es la poca información que se daba al resto del mundo. Nadie en España sabía que había pasado exactamente ni las consecuencias que el huracán había tenido. Es como una crisis real que para la mayor parte del mundo no ha existido y eso debería cambiar en todo tipo de conflictos o desastres para poder apoyar y ayudar.

Written by Irene Ruiz.

The story is part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and the journalism program at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.


From PR to NYC – “Sometimes I Feel Guilty that I’m Over Here and I’m Not Helping Rebuild Puerto Rico”

Photo courtesy of Ivenneth Padilla

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In January 2018, 21-year-old Ivenneth Padilla said goodbye to Puerto Rico and to her family and friends. Hurricane Maria devastated her hometown of Orocovis, located in the center of the island, and completely changed her reality.  This prompted her to look for opportunities to study outside the island.  New York University (NYU) opened the doors for her in a city that never sleeps and full of academic possibilities.  (In the fall of 2017 NYU announced it would provide free tuition for the spring 2018 semester to qualified college students in Puerto Rico.)

The young journalist speaks with her family every day. They are in good health, although they still suffer from frequent power blackouts. She misses them immensely and she’s worried about the well-being of her younger siblings. However, NYU has helped her develop herself and her interests; she has taken art courses and discovered that she loves to dance.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How did you feel when Hurricane Maria hit?

I suffered for my family. They are the most important thing to me, and seeing them in those conditions was difficult. We didn’t have power or water, we could barely leave the house due to the amount of debris on the roads. Even finding food or water became a challenge. I have two younger brothers, one is 12 and the other one 9, and it was very difficult to see them in that situation. They really like to play baseball and they couldn’t do it anymore. They couldn’t go to school, they were living without water or electricity. It is difficult for children to understand, and both of them would cry every night.

Why did you decide to leave Puerto Rico?

Not knowing what was going to happen in Puerto Rico or at my university, I doubted I would be able to continue my studies. Additionally, I was a part-time student working more than 40 hours a week in order to help my family, since my parents were not getting a salary. My cousin told me about the program at NYU and I decided to apply. I thought, ‘I have to keep moving forward, even if it pains me to be separate from my family.’

What impact did this scholarship have on you and your family?

It means fewer expenses for my family.  NYU pays for my classes, books, food, housing and medical insurance. It was a big relief, even more so in a time of so much economic instability.

Will you stay in New York or return to Puerto Rico?

That is a difficult question because sometimes I want to stay and other times I want to go back. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m over here and I’m not helping rebuild Puerto Rico. But the experience at NYU has been spectacular. NYU is more than a university, it’s a lifestyle. The education here turns into your daily routine and it’s not stressful. Here I feel like I’m building my future in the journalism capital, New York City. I have stood in front of the New York Times building, wishing that they would let me in to see it. This university has allowed me to leave my comfort zone and do the things that I couldn’t do in Puerto Rico, like study dancing. However, deep down, I do want to return to my island.

De Puerto Rico a Nueva York: “A veces me siento culpable de que estoy acá y no ayudando en la reconstrucción de Puerto Rico”

Ivenneth Padilla, puertorriqueña de 21 años de edad, se despidió de Puerto Rico, su familia y de sus amigos en enero de este año. El huracán María devastó su pueblo Orocovis, ubicado en el centro de la Isla, y distorsionó su realidad, por lo que intentó conseguir oportunidades de estudio fuera de la Isla. La Universidad de Nueva York (NYU) le abrió las puertas a la magia de una ciudad que nunca duerme, llena de posibilidades académicas. (En el otoño de 2017, NY anunció que otrogaría colegiatura gratis para el semestre de la primavera de 2018, a estudiantes universitarios puertorriqueños que calificaran en el programa).

La joven periodista habla con los miembros de su familia todos los días, quienes hoy se encuentran bien, aunque todavía la luz eléctrica se les va con frecuencia. Los extraña inmensamente y le preocupa el bienestar de sus hermanos menores. Sin embargo, NYU la ha ayudado a conectarse con ella misma y sus intereses; ha tomado cursos de arte y descubrió que le encanta el baile.

Esta conversación ha sido editada por claridad y extensión.

¿Cómo te sentiste una vez pasó el huracán María?

Yo sufrí por mi familia. Para mí son lo más importante, y verlos en estas condiciones fue fuerte. No teníamos luz ni agua, casi no podíamos salir de nuestra casa por la cantidad de escombros en las carreteras. Y hasta llegó el momento en que conseguir comida y agua para tomar era un reto. Tengo dos hermanos menores, uno de 12 años y otro de 9 años, y fue bien difícil verlos en esta situación. A ellos les gusta mucho jugar pelota y ya no podían hacerlo, no podían ir a la escuela, estaban viviendo sin electricidad y sin agua. A los niños pequeños se les hace difícil entender, y ellos dos lloraban por las noches.

Photo courtesy of Ivenneth Padilla

¿Por qué tomaste la decisión de irte de Puerto Rico?

Llegó el momento que yo no sabía qué iba a pasar en Puerto Rico ni en mi universidad. Dudé sobre si podría continuar mi bachillerato. Además, siendo estudiante part-time estaba trabajando más de 40 horas a la semana para ayudar a mi familia, ya que mis padres no estaban recibiendo ningún ingreso. Mi prima me habló del programa de NYU y decidí solicitar. Pensé, ‘tengo que seguir pa’lante aunque me duela separarme de la familia’.

¿Qué impacto tuvo esta beca en ti y en tu familia?

Es un gasto menos para mi familia. Acá, NYU me paga las clases, los libros, la comida, el hospedaje y el plan médico. Fue un gran alivio sobre todo en un momento de tanta inestabilidad económica.

¿Te quedas en Nueva York o regresas a Puerto Rico?

Es una pregunta difícil porque a veces quiero quedarme y a veces quiero regresar. A veces me siento culpable de que estoy acá y no ayudando en la reconstrucción de Puerto Rico. Pero la experiencia en NYU ha sido espectacular. NYU es más que una universidad, es un estilo de vida. La educación aquí se convierte en tu rutina diaria y no en un estresor. Aquí me siento que estoy construyendo mi futuro dentro de la capital del periodismo, la ciudad de Nueva York. Me he parado frente al edificio del New York Times deseosa de que me dejen entrar a verlo.  Esta universidad me ha permitido salir de mi zona de confort y hacer cosas que en Puerto Rico no podía hacer, como estudiar baile. Sin embargo, por dentro, sí quiero volver a mi isla.

This story was written by Sophia Bozzo.

This story is part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and the journalism program at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.


“Now is the Time to Rise” – A Student’s Optimism About Puerto Rico’s “Renaissance”

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Photo courtesy of Jacnier Ríos Lorenzo

What can force a person to abandon their home? For Jacnier Ríos Lorenzo it was not being able to continue his studies in communications due to the lack of Internet service after Hurricane Maria. Ríos Lorenzo moved to Florida to finish his bachelor’s degree at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) in San Juan, PR.

Although space in Florida was tight, living in the same house with eight other family members, the 20 year-old student from the town of Aguada, decided to continue his bachelor’s degree by taking his classes online.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

In addition to the lack of Internet, what other reasons motivated you to leave the country?

It was economic instability and the lack of security in my apartment building due to the lack of power. The area where I lived was a little unsafe at night, and not having power in San Juan is dangerous.

Additionally, I had extra expenses.  Because I didn’t have a refrigerator I always had to go out and buy food and fill up the gas tank more than usual to leave and come back to Aguada.

What arrangements did you have to make so you didn’t lose the semester?

I had multiple online courses, and even though there was Internet service in San Juan, there wasn’t in my town. So, once classes started again in USC I went up to the university to talk with the professors to ask what my options were. They recommended that I do what other students had done, leave for two or three months for the United States [mainland] and finish the semester online. I thought about it and said: ‘Let’s do this.’ Currently, I continue to take my classes from USC through their digital platform, but away from the island.

Will you go back to the island?

In my case, my plan is to go back. I don’t know when specifically, but I am certain I want to go back. Puerto Rico is my home. I know that I have a lot to give to my island, and I want to be a part of its growth. I want to become one of those young people that, after Hurricane Maria, will boost the country’s economy. Additionally, I know there are friends and family that await my return.

I think that what is happening in my little island is a renaissance. I have always believed that when something good is going to happen in somebody’s life, that person must face the hardship that presents itself on the way first. That is how I compare the current situation in Puerto Rico”.

How has the adaptation process been?

Taking 15 credits online isn’t easy, but I can’t complain about the professors. They have all been so pro-student and that has helped a lot in the process. The aid that they have given me, and their empathy with the situation has helped a lot with my development as a student, and it’s made the process a smoother one.

What is your perspective about what is happening in Puerto Rico?

I think that what is happening in my little island is a renaissance. I have always believed that when something good is going to happen in somebody’s life, that person must first face the hardship that presents itself on the way. That is how I compare the current situation in Puerto Rico. The country hit rock bottom, and now it is time to rise. Puerto Ricans, because of Hurricane Maria, have the responsibility of improving the status of our country.  The atmospheric event shook us and said: “Now is the time to rise”.

How does it feel to live outside the island?

When you have to live in a place for more than five months and really be with the people from that culture, it’s completely different. Something that I have experienced a lot is the racism that exists here, in the United States, it’s so intense.

“Es hora de levantarse” – El optimismo de un estudiante sobre el renacimiento de Puerto Rico

¿Qué puede forzar a una persona a abandonar su hogar?  Para Jacnier Ríos Lorenzo, quien tiene 20 años, fue la falta de Internet luego del paso del huracán María, ya que no podía continuar sus estudios en comunicaciones. Así que Ríos Lorenzo se trasladó a Florida, para poder culminar su bachillerato en la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC), en San Juan.

A pesar de tener que convivir con ocho familiares en una misma casa en Florida, el oriundo del municipio de Aguada, decidió continuar su bachillerato multidisciplinario tomando las clases en línea.

Además de la falta de Internet, ¿qué otras razones te impulsaron a abandonar el país?

Fue la inestabilidad económica y la falta de seguridad en mi apartamento debido a la ausencia de energía eléctrica. La zona donde vivía era un poco insegura en las noches y no tener luz en San Juan es peligroso… Adicionalmente,  incurriría en gastos extras porque al no tener sistema de refrigeración, tendría que salir a comprar comida siempre e invertir más gasolina de la habitual para subir y bajar del pueblo de Aguada.

¿Qué arreglos académicos tuviste que hacer para no perder el semestre?

Yo tenía varios cursos que eran en línea y, a pesar de que en San Juan había servicio de Internet, en mi pueblo no. Así que, una vez comenzaron las clases en Sagrado subí a la universidad para dialogar con los profesores para saber qué opciones tenía. Me recomendaron que hiciera como habían hecho otros estudiantes que se habían ido dos o tres meses para los Estados Unidos y terminarían el semestre en línea. Lo pensé y dije: “vamos a hacer esto”. Actualmente, continúo tomando mis clases de bachillerato de la USC a través de su plataforma digital, pero fuera del país.

¿Volverás a la Isla?

En mi caso, tengo como plan regresar. No sé específicamente en qué momento, pero lo tengo muy claro que quiero volver, ya que Puerto Rico es mi hogar. Sé que me falta mucho por ofrecerle a mi isla y quiero ser parte de su crecimiento. Deseo convertirme en uno de esos jóvenes que, luego del huracán María, impulsará la economía del país. Además, sé que hay amigos y familiares que anhelan verme de regreso.

¿Cómo ha sido el proceso de adaptación?

Tomar quince créditos en línea no es fácil, pero no me puedo quejar de los profesores. Todos han sido tan pro estudiantes que eso es lo que ha ayudado mucho en el proceso. La ayuda que han brindado y su empatía con la situación han ayudado muchísimo al desempeño de uno como estudiante y a que el proceso sea uno mucho más fácil.

¿Cuál es tu perspectiva acerca de lo que está pasando en Puerto Rico?

Pienso que lo que está pasando en mi islita es un renacimiento. Siempre he creído que cuando algo bueno va a ocurrir en la vida de una persona, primero debe enfrentarse a pruebas que se le cruzan en el camino. Así lo comparo con la situación actual de Puerto Rico. Ya el país tocó al fondo, ahora le toca subir; nos toca subir. Los puertorriqueños, debido al huracán María, tenemos la responsabilidad de mejorar el estatus de nuestra patria. El evento atmosférico nos sacudió y nos dijo: “es hora de levantarse”

¿Cómo se siente vivir fuera de tu país?

Cuando te toca vivir en un lugar por más de cinco meses y realmente estar con las personas de esa cultura, es completamente diferente. Algo que me ha tocado vivir mucho es el racismo que hay aquí, en los Estados Unidos, tan fuerte.

Written by Cecilia Ortiz.

This story is part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and the journalism program at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.


Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and Migration

An in-depth look at the impact of a devastating storm.


“Now That I Live On My Own, I Have Spent Weeks with Just Ten Dollars in My Pocket”

Nashaly Ortiz in the library. Photo: Leynice Rivera

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Nashaly Ortiz, a 22-year-old student from Naguabo, a town in southeastern Puerto Rico, remembers the terrifying blow of Hurricane Maria like it was yesterday. The damage the hurricane caused, forced her to leave her family in order to finish her studies in nursing at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) in San Juan, PR. Her father migrated to the U.S mainland to look for better economic opportunities, and so she has taken on the responsibility of trying to find medical care for her mother who suffered a stroke just prior to the hurricane.

Ortiz says that the economic shift has been difficult — leaving a lifestyle where she had everything to one where she doesn’t have enough to eat. However she says this difficult situation has not prevented her from finishing her studies. On the contrary, the experience has motivated her to continue so she can help her family.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How did your life change after Hurricane Maria?

My life changed drastically. My family and I lost a lot of things in the house because of the amount of water that got in, like for example, our furniture. The structure of the house was also affected and on the nights we spent without power we would sleep in fear and we felt unsafe because of the crime rate. After the hurricane passed, the crime rate in Naguabo increased. During the night, we were worried because the lack of gasoline for our cars or power generators, meant that people were stealing gas by damaging cars. Moreover, they would take advantage of the dark to break into houses and steal.

Have you been without food?

There isn’t a lot of food at home. I have to save up as much as possible so I am able to contribute to my home expenses and [for] basic expenses. We still have not been able to recuperate what we lost. Now that I live on my own, I have spent weeks with just 10 dollars in my pocket.

How did the hurricane affect you emotionally?

A lot. My family’s situation affects me a lot. My mom had recently suffered a stroke that made her lose basic functions. Now my sisters and I are taking care of her, now that dad isn’t here.

Did you ever think about dropping out of university?

I have always been focused on finishing my studies and I am willing to make sacrifices.

Which sacrifices have you had to make?

Moving into the residences at the university, living far from my family and asking for a loan so I could pay my university bills and other personal expenses. I never thought I would go through something like this.

How has your academic life been affected?

The advantage of living alone and far from my family is that I can focus on studying and not think of all those problems.

Ahora que vivo sola, he pasado semanas con solo 10 dólares en el bolsillo”

Nashaly Ortiz, puertorriqueña de 22 años de edad residente del pueblo de Naguabo, recuerda como si fuera ayer el aterrador paso del huracán María sobre Puerto Rico.

La tragedia la llevó a sufrir la separación indefinida de su familia y a enfrentar muchas dificultades tratando de conseguir atención médica para su madre, quien sufrió un derrame cerebral poco antes del huracán. Su padre migró a Estados Unidos, para buscar una mejor situación económica. Y ella tuvo que tomar medidas extremas para poder poder culminar sus estudios en Enfermería en la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC).

Ortiz cuenta que el cambio económico ha sido difícil — dejar a un lado un estilo de vida donde lo tenía todo, a no tener que comer. Sin embargo, dice que para ella esta difícil situación no ha sido un obstáculo para completar sus estudios. Al contrario, esta experiencia la ha motivado a continuar para así poder ayudar a su familia.

¿Cómo cambio tu vida después del huracán María?

Mi vida cambió drásticamente. Mi familia y yo perdimos muchas cosas de la casa por la cantidad de agua que entró, como por ejemplo, los muebles. La estructura de la casa se afectó y las noches que pasamos sin el servicio de energía eléctrica dormíamos con temor y nos sentíamos inseguros por la criminalidad. Luego del paso del huracán, la criminalidad del pueblo de Naguabo aumentó. Durante las noches, la desesperación por falta de gasolina para los automóviles o plantas eléctricas, provocó que intrusos robaran la gasolina dañando carros. Además, se aprovechaban de la oscuridad para entrar a propiedades y robar.

¿Han estado sin comida?

No hay mucha comida en casa. Tengo que ahorrar lo más posible para poder aportar a la economía de mi casa y [para] gastos básicos. Todavía no nos hemos podido recuperar, sino todo lo contrario. Ahora que vivo sola, he pasado semanas con solo 10 dólares en el bolsillo.

¿Cómo te afectó el huracán emocionalmente?

Un montón. Me afecta mucho la situación de mi familia. Mi mamá recientemente había sufrido un derrame cerebral que la hizo perder destrezas básicas. Ahora mis hermanas y yo tenemos que cuidarla, ya que papi no está.

¿Pensaste abandonar la universidad?

Siempre he estado centrada en terminar mis estudios y estoy dispuesta a hacer sacrificios.

¿Qué sacrificios has tenido que hacer?

Mudarme al hospedaje de mi universidad, vivir lejos de mi familia y pedir un préstamo para poder pagar la universidad y otros gastos personales. Nunca pensé que pasaría por algo como esto.

¿Cómo se afectó tu vida académica?

La ventaja de estar sola y lejos de mi familia es que puedo dedicarme a estudiar y no pensar en tantos problemas.

This story was written by Leynice Rivera.

This story was part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and journalism students at  Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.


Displaced But Determined: College Students From Puerto Rico Tell Their Stories

The library at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Among the many ways to measure the human toll of Hurricane Maria there is this:  Since the storm more than 32-thousand college students have left the island.  That estimate from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College captures the upheaval in young people’s lives as well as the loss to the island of the bright young stars who might have contributed to Puerto Rico’s recovery.

After the storm dozens of colleges and universities on the U.S. mainland offered free or reduced tuition to Puerto Rican students. Many leapt at the chance to realize a dream of leaving the island to continue their studies.  Others quit school altogether to work or join the U.S. military.  Regardless of where they ended up, displaced students express mixed emotions about their new lives. The excitement of embarking on a new adventure is often tempered by worry about their friends and family still on the island and guilt over abandoning their home in the midst of a crisis.

Last fall Feet in 2 Worlds began working with journalism students at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, in San Juan, PR under the direction of Professor Lillian Agosto Maldonado. She invited her students to write profiles of fellow students, asking them to focus on their experiences, the challenges they faced, and their decision to stay on the mainland or return to the island.

Their stories offer a window into young people’s lives upended by the storm.

The majority of these profiles were originally written in Spanish and translated into English by John Pink.  Three students, William Gomez Aquino, Barbara Becerra Marcano and Salome Ramirez Vargas did their own English translation.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.

Coast Guard aircrews deliver Hurricane Maria relief supplies in Puerto Rico

Call for Story Pitches: After the Storm – Tracking the Puerto Rican Exodus

Extended deadline to submit your pitch is February 28th.  

Residents of Utuado, Puerto Rico were stranded after Hurricane Maria by washed out roads and mudslides; photo: Eric D. Woodall

The next Fi2W online magazine will report on migration triggered by climate change.  Our focus will be the mass exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island to the U.S. mainland following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as the migration of residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands to the mainland.

Our coverage will examine the impact on communities where Puerto Rican climate migrants are settling as well as changes in their relationship to the communities they left behind.

We will explore the challenges facing people arriving on the mainland as well as the social, economic and political transformation of cities and states with large Puerto Rican populations such as New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Illinois.

We will tell this story through individual narratives as well as more broad-based reporting that explores what it means to be a climate refugee, and the implications of this phenomenon for the nation as a whole.

We are looking for stories in any medium – feature articles, audio, video, photo essay, or maps – that help bring a deeper understanding to these complex issues.   Story pitches should be submitted in English. Stories may be published in English and Spanish.

Areas to explore include:

  • How the storms have changed relationships between Puerto Ricans on the mainland and the island -within families, in community-to-community connections, and in philanthropy within the Puerto Rican community.
  • How recovery has varied for those with family or friends on the mainland and those without those connections.
  • The political impact of the storms both on the mainland and the island.
  • New trends and ideas in Puerto Rican arts, culture and sustainability practices that have been prompted or inspired by the storms.
  • How are challenges of housing, education and jobs being met on the mainland?
  • Connections between the post-hurricane recovery and the Puerto Rico economic crisis.
  • How are communities in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands working towards climate change mitigation and adaptation to lessen the impact of future storms?
  • Lessons for planners, emergency management agencies and other local agencies in cities that have received climate refugees.

Deadline to submit your pitch is February 28th.  

To submit your pitch, or for questions, contact Rachael Bongiorno at rbongiorno@newschool.edu

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, The J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.


Puerto Ricans Forced Out by the Hurricane Find Refuge in a Central Massachusetts City

A mother and daughter begin their new life on the mainland.


After María, A Desperate Search to Locate and Help Family in Puerto Rico

A Chicago filmmaker’s journey of connecting and reuniting with her family