Catalina Perez: A Student Finds Purpose through SAGE

Born in Colombia to a Spanish-speaking family, Catalina Perez is currently a Valencia student, working toward a degree in general studies. For her, Valencia has served as a pathway to discovering purpose – an ideal that Dr. Shugart first presented to faculty and staff at Academic Assembly last year.

While Catalina has had many pathway-directing experiences as a student at Valencia, she always kept her purpose in mind – to one day have a career in international relations. Her focus on achieving this purpose led her to study abroad in Italy through the Study Abroad and Global Experiences (SAGE) program.

Last fall, Catalina spent the semester in Italy – an experience she says allowed her to acquire knowledge of a new culture and practice learning a new language. Catalina is well-versed at learning new languages. After learning French in high school and some Portuguese at Valencia, Italian was another one of the main, Latin-based languages to check off her list.

“Learning different languages is a fundamental base in international relations,” Catalina said. Her trip to Italy also provided an opportunity to “strengthened my independence and developed long-lasting friendships.”  You can watch a video Catalina made to capture her experience in Italy below.

Going abroad has been an eye-opening experience for Catalina who has also traveled to Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia with the honors program, and to China with the business program. She articulated that, “it has helped me realize that the more we travel, the more we understand other cultures, and by understanding them we learn that we are not as different after all.”

Catalina’s journey to Valencia began when she was in middle school. She relocated to Orlando in 2003 from Columbia to join her mother who had moved here a year earlier after escaping from political asylum. When they were reunited, Catalina explained, “it was one of the happiest days of my life.  However, adapting to a new culture and a new life style was a very shocking experience.”

Early on, Catalina faced discrimination from both her classmates and from her teachers. “Some refused to teach me because I wasn’t fluent in English,” she said. “Although, those were hard times, I look back and see them as learning experiences. For me, they were challenges that empowered me not only to master the English language but also to always try my best and follow my dreams.”

So with a passion for learning and a good dictionary in hand, Catalina set out to graduate with honors in both middle school and high school. During her last year of high school, Catalina’s mother lost her job and was going through a difficult divorce, so she decided to stay in Orlando to begin her college education at Valencia while helping to support her mom.

“It didn’t feel right to leave my mom behind while I was on my way to fulfill my dream,” Catalina explained, “but I also didn’t want to forget about my education.” When researching schools in the area, she realized that based on what Valencia had to offer, it was the best decision she could make. Working 40 hours per week at a local retail store, Catalina found that “Valencia’s schedule worked with my work schedule, but more importantly, it offered me a good education at an affordable price.”

Admitting that Valencia was not her first choice, Catalina soon discovered that “it was clearly my best decision.” At Valencia, Catalina found opportunity and support, sharing that the college has served as launching point in her life. “I know I’m well prepared to overcome any challenge and to continue pursuing my goals,” she said.

Catalina plans to graduate from Valencia this spring with an honors degree in general studies and has applied to a handful of four-year institutions. At present, she has been accepted to Rollins College and is waiting to hear from Florida State University, as well as Georgetown University, American University, and George Washington University –which are located in Washington, D.C.

To read about another student who used purpose and a clear sense of direction to achieve her goals, check out Behind the Scenes with Rafaela.


  • Dave Heffernan said:

    Great Video! Thanks for sharing!

    PMTue, 28 Feb 2012 16:23:06 +0000Tue, 28 Feb 2012 16:23:06 +0000pm12,4:23 pm

  • Sandy said:

    You and your mother are awesome, Catalina. It is amazing to see the sacrifices you have already made together to assure the best education possible. I have no doubt you will be very successful and wrote the letter of reommendation to Columbia University with enthusiasm. Once you are there, all you have to do is walk on water!

    AMThu, 01 Mar 2012 11:50:59 +0000Thu, 01 Mar 2012 11:50:59 +0000am12,11:50 am

  • Darryl Pirmal said:

    Wonderful story and that was an Awesome video. Thanks for sharing.

    AMFri, 02 Mar 2012 07:26:34 +0000Fri, 02 Mar 2012 07:26:34 +0000am12,7:26 am

  • Catalina Perez said:


    Moments like these are what makes overcoming my obstacles all worth it!

    I'm glad you all enjoyed the video, Italy was definitely a great experience.

    I agree when people say that traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

    Dr.Shugart Thank you very much for the letters of recommendation. I really appreciate it. 🙂

    AMMon, 12 Mar 2012 09:50:27 +0000Mon, 12 Mar 2012 09:50:27 +0000am12,9:50 am

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