A Family Reunited: Sandra’s Story

Sandra with her husband in San Francisco

I never expected to be a single parent. One of the biggest surprises of my life came when my husband, Luis, learned that he had been approved for a green card to come to the United States. His parents had moved here from Honduras in the 1990s, and they had applied on his behalf years earlier. Suddenly, what had seemed like a remote possibility was now reality.

At the time, our son was only a year old. We had to make a choice — we could stay together in Honduras, or we could take the opportunity for Luis to come to the U.S., not knowing when we would be able to join him.

But we both knew there really was no choice. The situation in Honduras was becoming more desperate as the government collapsed amid rising poverty and crime. As difficult as our situation was, we were luckier than most. The statistics tell some of the story: two-thirds of Hondurans live in poverty, and escalating violence has forced hundreds of thousands of my people — many of them women and children — to flee the country.

Living in a country with no stable government and little security often felt hopeless. There was hardly any opportunity to work — even for someone like me, who had graduated from university with a degree in industrial engineering.

Sandra with her coworkers in Honduras

Nobody casually chooses to be separated from their family and to leave loved ones behind. Taking the green card was the best chance our family had for opportunity and a stable future, but it was a gut-wrenching decision. Luis went to the U.S., and I stayed behind to raise our son while working full time as a product manager at a manufacturing company.

It was so hard on all of us, but especially on our son. The questions were non-stop: “Where is my father? Why did he leave us? Why can’t we be together?”

How do you explain to a young child the sacrifices we were making for our future?

Meanwhile, Luis had to watch his son grow up via Skype. Between calls, we would count down the days until he could visit us in person. Luis was only able to get back to Honduras three times in five years.

And then finally, after what felt like a lifetime of waiting — and indeed, it was nearly a lifetime for our son — we got the approval to join Luis in the Bay Area! I received a letter, and immediately called my husband, and then all our relatives to celebrate!

We were so happy and excited. We arrived in the U.S. in the summer, and the first thing we did was take a camping trip together as a family. I was struck by what a beautiful country the U.S. is, and how advanced the technology and infrastructure seemed.

But after that initial joy at being together again, I started to feel anxiety creeping in. As hard as it had been to make a living in Honduras, I had a network of friends, colleagues, and extended family. Coming to a new country and starting from zero was shocking.

In the U.S., I didn’t even know how to ride the bus. I worried about not speaking English well enough. I was afraid to speak, to laugh, to ask for directions.

Applying for our residency and traveling to the U.S. had been expensive. I wanted and needed to contribute, but I didn’t know how to apply for a job here or where to start. I started to take ESL classes, and I went to see a counselor at a local community. I’ll never forget her words: “Upwardly Global is an organization that supports immigrants with degrees, and they can help you.” That woman will never know how much she changed my life that day.

I had believed that my degree would not be recognized in the U.S., but Upwardly Global showed me that my education and experience have value here. Through their job coaching, networking, skill-building and interview preparation programs, I gained the skills and confidence to present myself to U.S. employers.

I will always be grateful to my Upwardly Global job coach, Gitanjali. She helped me understand the job search process in the U.S., tailor my resume for my industry, and introduced me to an UpGlo program alum who was working for a leading food distribution company. This connection opened the doors for an interview, and UpGlo gave me the skills to nail it. After six long months of frustrated attempts to rebuild my career in California, I got hired for a logistics and customer service role.

At this company, my international experience and bilingual abilities are an asset: I work with many customers from Central America and across Latin America.

Most of all, I love it when my son asks me about my work because I can tell that he is proud of me.

Building a professional network means everything when you are rebuilding a career in a new a new country. UpGlo was the best connector I could have asked for, and I recently had the opportunity to pay it forward. Upwardly Global introduced me to a current job seeker, a woman from Colombia with a young child and challenges that were so much like my own. After doing an informational interview with her, I was proud to help her secure a job at my company.

It means so much to me that I was able to share the guidance and support that I received — specially to help another mother support her family and build a better life for her children. Starting from scratch shouldn’t have to mean starting from the bottom.

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Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization that works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees.