Kate Aksyonov, reporter/section editor
For the first time in her life, a 15 year old girl will buy a winter jacket. Up until that year, salty air, warm sunshine, and the steady rhythm of the tide was a constant aspect of life for Senior Camila Morell, who had spent her days by the beach while she lived in Puerto Rico. Now, two years later, she has started to adjust to the empty plains, extreme weather, and sea of corn that are now a constant aspect of life in Nebraska.
Morell never sampled Nebraska winter weather before moving to Omaha the summer of her freshman year, 2015. She was born and raised in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, until one day her step-dad announced that they would be moving to the United States, a statement which was met with anger at first and then gradual acceptance.
“I was really mad and upset about [moving], I literally could not talk to my parents for a week,” Morell said. “I just had to get on with it because it was happening, so why not just go with it then figure it out from there.”
Morell attended a private school in San Juan which taught exclusively in English, which made the difference between the Elkhorn South and San Juan school system and language barrier practically nonexistent and something Morell didn’t have to “figure out”.
The culture in Nebraska compared to San Juan, however, couldn’t be more different.
“Back home, we are really united,” Morell said. “The whole community. And family is so much bigger. It’s not just whoever lives with you; it’s your cousins, and friends, and friends of the family. Everyone is considered family at that point.”
When Morell first moved to the United States, the hardest part was the cultural shock that came with meeting new people and making new friends. Fortunately, Morell has succeeded and created her own second family in Omaha that always tries to “understand and evolve” with her.
“It feels really good [to have supportive friends here],” Morell said. “I really felt like I wasn’t going to fit in because of the whole difference between Omaha and Puerto Rico- it’s insane. So I was really worried.”
In order to meet school requirements, Morell had to take Spanish 4 and AP Spanish, the class taught by teacher Stephanie Stanley. Stanley also has experience adjusting to United States culture; she moved here from Guatemala. She witnessed Morell tieing in her experiences to benefit her AP Spanish class.
“[Morell] was able to connect her culture with whatever topic we were talking about in class,” Stanley said. “She would share her experiences daily and even help me with words I forgot! Camila was also able to expose non-native students to a different accent, while assuring them that it was okay to make mistakes in front of her.”
Although she may bring her life in Puerto Rico into the class, Morell maintains strong ties to the life she left behind by frequent visits back home. To get to Puerto Rico, Morell has to fly alone for a total of eight hours, not including layover wait times in cities like Chicago, Atlanta, or Charlotte. She tries to return as much as possible and views her time in America as time to study.
Morell’s mom was recently back in Puerto Rico to help with relief efforts after hurricane Irma, but had to extend her stay due to recent hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico has on average one storm per year that affects them, but one storm every six years that makes direct landfall. Due to the perceived constant threat of a hurricane, Morell recalled how hurricanes no longer alarm residents because of the expectation that they will swerve.
“We are always used to having that safety net so no one was ready for the real impact,” Morell said. “They had said beforehand that phones are going to be down, water will be cut off, and so is energy. Basically my whole family was down there and I couldn’t communicate with them.”
CNN estimated the total damages to Puerto Rico as much as $95 Billion. Morell’s family is very fortunate and has sustained minimal damages from the hurricane, but nonetheless the frequent loss of contact with family back at home is still a scary factor for Morell.
Beyond just conflict with the natural elements, Puerto Rico is filled with internal conflicts about the future of the US territory: some want Puerto Rico to become a state, while others want it to become an independent country.
“I would not say I side with any of those, but I do say that the people who want to become independent have their reasons because we have not been treated as well as any other American citizen I feel like,” Morell said. “But for the people who want to become a state, I do get it too, because it would benefit us a lot. But at this point, with this administration, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.”
A common misconception about Puerto Rico is that the residents there are not US citizens, and even though they are, Puerto Ricans are not given the same rights that a citizen would have. For example, although the United States government dictates the laws and regulations there, residents are unable to vote for the President.
“The government sees us more as a territory, but we are actual people and they don’t notice that,” Morell said. “It’s like [we’re] second class citizens… it’s terrible.”
The experience of moving to Nebraska has given Morell a new perspective on her political views and has led her to change her course for her future. She now aspires to go into international business, then transition to the United Nations.
This experience, although it may have some hardships, has turned out for Morell’s benefit. She recommends it for everyone.
“I think that you grow from it and that you learn different things that you didn’t have in the last place,” Morell said. “And it’s an experience. You learn about different people, different ways of life, and how your struggles are not someone else’s. So I do think everyone should move all around the world, I’m planning on doing it.”
Morell’s move from Puerto Rico to Nebraska has opened her eyes to the needs of the world and has shaped her character and perspective on Morell’s life.
“Now that I’ve moved here and acclimated myself with Nebraska, I can acclimate myself will almost anything at this point,” Morell said. “I think it’s made me stronger in the face of hardships and what I view as hardships, because these are not hardships for anyone, there are so many more things going on in the world.”