By Gerardo Milano
Making a life change is difficult, sometimes scary, especially when you’re saying goodbye to your family and friends. Hard to believe, but that is the cost of pursuing your dreams — dreams that push you outside of your comfort zone and demand the best of you.
Continuing my soccer career abroad was my top priority by the time I was finishing my junior year in high school, and no better way to do so than by coming to the U.S. My older brother, Riccardo, had just finished his junior year as a student-athlete, giving me a sense of what my life would be like. With all the chaos that my country was going through, my decision to leave Venezuela to seek better opportunities in both soccer and academics seemed to be the right one.
What was once the richest country in Latin America, has been for many years spiraling into chaos. Venezuela is going through a political, economic and humanitarian crisis, which is forcing many people to leave the country in search of better opportunities. Even though my decision to come to the U.S was already made, leaving Venezuela was not easy for me. Leaving all my past aside, the place where I grew up — my favorite place. The people, the music, the beaches, the food, the weather… honestly, it was not easy at all.
When I arrived to the United States, I realized how hard it is to be away from your people for so long. The weather, “El Clima,” is definitely one of the things I miss the most. Coming from a place where temperatures range from 60-80 degrees all year around to a city where the eternal winter lasts for six months of the year, believe me, it is not so easy. Then there’s the food. There’s good food in Boston, but it simply cannot be compared to coming back home and seeing that my mom has just prepared a “Pabellon,” the traditional Venezuelan dish.
The language. Due to the lack of my English proficiency, I had to complete an English program for about nine months which prevented me from going through the recruiting process that regular college soccer players complete. So it was in the spring of 2016 when Coach Gbandi gave me the opportunity to try and join the team as a walk-on. My college soccer career at Northeastern — and my decision to come to the US — was going to be defined by that trial. Every single day I had to prove in practice that I deserved a spot and that I took the right risk in coming here. And when Coach told me I was officially part of the team? No doubt one of the most rewarding moments in my life.
We have a saying in Venezuela: “todo sacrificio tiene su recompensa” -“every sacrifice has its rewards.” Despite the difficulties of adjusting to a new life, it’s been an amazing experience so far. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that studying in the U.S is offering me, and I cannot take this for granted. Being a student-athlete at Northeastern has been a privilege for me. I couldn’t be more appreciative to my coaches and teammates for welcoming me as part of the family.
From day one I committed myself to give my best and improve as both a soccer player and an individual as much as I could, knowing that there are teenagers back in Venezuela who would love to do what I’m doing, but are not able to leave the country to seek better opportunities. This motivates me to set an example for the children in Venezuela, showing them what is possible.
Seeing in the news how much people are suffering in Venezuela, how the crisis is literally ending the lives of many individuals, is shocking. It is hard to see that what was once the perfect place to live my childhood, become the most dangerous place to live and one of the worst economies in the world. This impacts me here emotionally, but I have faith that it will change someday. Like many, I have this hope that we will all return in the future and rebuild our country, even if that sounds very far away from now. This is one of the things that keeps me motivated in my day to day life, knowing that the education I’m receiving and the future I’m building will be our main tool that will help us rebuild Venezuela.
I have realized this has been the best decision I have ever made. Nothing but appreciation towards the school, the athletic program, the boys, the coaches and every person who has contributed to my development. Gracias.
Gerardo Milano, men’s soccer
Featured image by Brian Bae.