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The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

OIE Director makes lasting impact at UNI

Carolina Coronado-Park Says seeing challenges as opportunities is a great learning experience that everyone should take advantage of
COURTESY/ Office of International Engagement
The Office of International Engagement works to provide opportunities to to UNI’s 84 international students. They work symbiotically with local UNI students to promote inclusion of students.

Growing up in a country where most things came easy and everything felt like second nature is a big contrast to moving to the United States and having to learn from ground zero. In 1995, Carolina Coronado-Park came to Iowa to visit her family for the summer, with no intention of becoming a full-time resident. That summer, Coronado-Park stayed in Iowa and studied at the University of Northern Iowa in the Culture and Intensive English Program. Soon after, she fell in love with the university, the Cedar Valley, and her now husband. 

Coronado-Park is no stranger to hardship or adversity. Originally from Peru, she lost her father at 16 years old, then had to flee from her home country to Spain due to an active terrorist group. During that time she had to give up on one of her dreams of becoming a diplomat. However, when she realized she wouldn’t be able to return to Peru, she decided she was going to focus on her studies in Political Science and International Relations. 

“We had to learn how to do almost everything. From studying to parenting and working,” she said. While many things were hard for her, she had a lot of help and support from her family.  “I think I need to take every challenge as an opportunity and to push through and to see the rewarding part of what we were doing,” she said. 

Pullquote Photo

Without the challenges, you are not able to enjoy the successes or good times.

— Carolina Coronado-Park, Director of International Engagement

When she first arrived in America, she was overwhelmed. She didn’t know how to speak the English language and had to learn to get around campus. She had to do everything she was expected to do as a new college student, and like many of us know, that is no easy feat. Despite these challenges, she had the opportunity to do an internship at the Senate in Washington D.C., which gave her a lot of exposure to work with a great diversity of people. 

“It has been a great opportunity for me to be exposed, not always has it been fun,” she said. “However without challenges, you are not able to enjoy the successes or the good times.”

Prior to coming to Iowa, Coronado-Park visited Chicago, finding it just how she imagined it would be. However, when she later came to Iowa, she was shocked. “There were no people on the streets like there were in big cities, or in any other places,” she said. Movies and social media set expectations that aren’t always correct or what they appear to be. 

In spite of these false hopes, she found positives in the world around her. “I have so many great things to tell about the Cedar Valley,” she said. “I think the community, people, UNI is a great place and has resources for not only international students but the community in general.” 

When asked, many people can say Iowa is a boring place with lots of cornfields, and while that can be true, Iowa can help make a lot of dreams come true for many people. Despite being overwhelmed when she first arrived and having no prior plans to stay here, she knew there were lessons to be learned and had a big goal in mind that required her to remain right where she was.

She had been exposed to working with international people and learning from different cultures in many aspects before coming to the United States. Her mother worked for the Peruvian Embassy in Spain, Venezuela, and Panama, so she and her brothers were exposed to the world and its different cultures at very young ages. This is what inspired her to become involved in international engagement. 

When meeting with students Coronado-Park tries not to assume everyone is going through the same experiences, because not all cultures and backgrounds are alike. She always makes an effort to help students in any way possible. Whether that’s advocating for them, supporting them, advising them, or connecting them with peers, she hopes those experiences here at UNI will guide students in creating a positive performance in the world. 

“I mainly focus on the students’ success,” she said. 

She tells students to always come in with an open mind. “Just because things are different does not mean they’re bad or better,” she said. One takeaway from her experiences would be to take every single opportunity that is provided because most opportunities may only show up once and you may never get that chance again. 

In the Fall of 2022, 84 students out of approximately 8,900 here at UNI were international students. All of them probably got the chance or will get the chance to meet with Coronado-Park, and she can only hope she has been and will continue to make an ever-lasting impact on their lives.

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