Ivan Olivas - Junior Now 'Comfortable being Uncomfortable'

Ivan Olivas

“In order to grow, we have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” That simple phrase led Eastern Kentucky University student Ivan Olivas to spend his summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The rising junior spent the summer studying advanced Spanish at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires through the SOL Education Abroad program.

Olivas admitted that the experience was not always an easy one, especially the initial transition. A Lexington native, Olivas was overwhelmed by the population of Buenos Aires – 2.5 million compared to Lexington’s 300,000.

Communication was also more difficult than he expected. Though Ivan grew up speaking Spanish, he quickly realized that the Spanish spoken in Argentina, known as Español Rioplatense, was very different than the Spanish he knew.

But even that didn’t phase Olivas, who often found himself sitting with locals and joining in their conversations, even when it was difficult to understand them. “Although I had to ask them to repeat themselves many times, I slowly started to get the hang of it,” he explained.

“This experience sort of taught me a life lesson. Things might seem intimidating at first, but don’t be afraid to throw yourself in there. Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Along with learning the language, Olivas also participated in several cultural activities during his stay, such as museum visits, tango classes, and watching a soccer game at the El Monumental Stadium, the largest arena in Argentina.

His favorite part of the trip, though, was volunteering with an organization called Techo, building a home for a family in need.

Olivas explained that the home they built for a family was not exceptional. It had only one room. There was no electricity, heating, or air conditioning. “It was just four walls, a floor and a roof. Yet, as simple as it was, the family for whom we built it was very grateful.”

The volunteer service was part of a free weekend, in which students had the option of spending it exploring Buenos Aires, doing independent travel, or volunteering. “Since I was able to make this trip possible through scholarships and grants, I thought the most virtuous thing to do was volunteer,” said Olivas. “It’s always good in life to give back, after all that we are given.”

Olivas financed the trip with scholarships from the SOL Education Abroad program and Fund for Education Abroad, as well as various scholarships for academic achievement from EKU. He also received the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for education abroad.

“These scholarships make me truly grateful for being in this country and having the opportunities that I do,” Olivas said.

Olivas learned the value of hard work and education at a young age, as he watched his parents, who had immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, fight for a better life for themselves and their son.

“They had to leave their family in Mexico in hopes of a brighter future. Some people have an idea that immigrants come to the United States and have everything handed to them,” Olivas said. “However, that is not true at all. It takes a lot of hard work in the toughest of jobs in order to stay afloat.”

Observing his mother’s hard work inspired Olivas to follow in their footsteps. Through his own hard work and dedication, he managed to get a full-ride scholarship to EKU, but he didn’t stop there. Along with double-majoring in computer network security and Spanish, Olivas is a member of the Honors Program, peer mentor for the Freshman Academy of Diverse Students, and president of the Latino Student Association.

Though the responsibilities associated with the positions have been a little daunting at times, Olivas reminds himself that being uncomfortable is the key to growth. In the past few years, he has grown from someone who became nervous at the thought of speaking in front of his class into a scholar, proudly presenting on the subject of immigrant identity politics at the National Collegiate Honors Conference.

Olivas hopes to continue this growth as he continues his education with plans to study abroad in his parents’ home country in Fall 2018, and graduation the following fall.

To other students considering studying abroad, Olivas offered some advice: “You only live once, travel the world! As a college student, you have opportunities out there that will only be available as a college student. You don’t want to look back in life and regret not taking advantage of the opportunities that were out there.”

--by Yasmin White, Student Writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management

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Published on August 11, 2017