I grew up in a rural town in Costa Rica, where I was born.
Costa Rica was and still is a beautiful place, a paradise for me and my sisters.
However, the education system in my native town wasn’t the finest, and we were quite limited in basic privileges. The budget was always tight.
My mom knew she didn’t want to raise me under such conditions, so she decided to move to North Carolina. When we arrived, I began elementary school and quickly learned to speak English.
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With this skill under my belt, I managed to prosper academically.
A couple years ago, as a freshman at Holly Springs High School, I ended up getting placed in a marketing class. Little did I know my life would shortly take a turn for the better.
Coming from such a small country was difficult for me. I tended to feel out of place in a social setting and did not feel like I had much to work toward.
Most of my family had very limited options, and I thought life would be no different for me. With such little vision, I did not tend to stand out at school.
Until that marketing class.
My teacher showed me a promotional video for DECA, an international not-for-profit group that aims to prepare young leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.
My high school DECA chapter seemed an opportunity I couldn’t resist.
It would be tough – I’d have to challenge myself to network with other students and compete alongside them – but I figured it might be worth it, and it was.
After the first year participating in the club and competing at the district, state and international level, I was a completely different person.
Through DECA, I attended a Leadership Development Academy that changed my perspective on my community, and myself.
Pretty soon I saw myself speaking up and putting my ideas forward. I ran for a chapter office at my school, unsuccessfully.
My teacher, however, saw potential in me and supported me in running for a statewide position, as the Triad region vice president. Thanks to the support and help of my community, my family, and my faith I was elected.
That year, serving North Carolina DECA taught me so much. The most valuable lesson I learned is that the expression “American dream” should not be taken lightly. I found mine in DECA and would not trade it for anything.
My eyes were opened to the world around me, and now I know the sky is the limit. Being a student leader has empowered me to take control of my own life and my future.
At the end of my term, I ran for NC DECA president. I was recently elected, and now I am the group’s first Hispanic president.
Looking back at all I have accomplished, I can’t believe I am still that small-town country girl.
Eileen is a 17-year-old junior at Holly Springs High School. North Carolina DECA has more than 5,000 members throughout the state.