My name is Luis Fernandez. I was born to a Christian home, and surrounded by animals. My parents dedicated their lives to a small farm outside of Tactic and I´ve loved animals ever since I remember, especially dogs. Growing up was very tough, challenging and different from what my friends lived at the same age. I had to wake up early every morning to pick up eggs, help my dad milk the cows and get ready for school before 7 am. I was known to be a very shy kid but my dad managed to teach me many abilities. I was able to tie all kinds of knots, ride horses and bulls, and herd cattle. On the other hand, my mom dedicated her time and effort to educate me and my sister on Christian values and chores at home. 

The beginning of school was a big challenge. I went to a small public school, close to my house. I remember those days; I only wanted to play soccer all day long but, somewhere inside my innocent heart, I wanted to be a “professional” farmer because being around cows, chickens, dogs and horses was my greatest joy. Finally, I realized, the same way I worked hard alongside my dad, that I had to start working hard in school. That made a huge change in my mindset and the route I finally took.

Now, I´m about to obtain a degree in Medicine and Surgery at Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala. It’s been ten years since I came back from The United States of America, where I was studying through a scholarship from GSSG (in the beginning years of GSSG, students were brought to the US to study and live with host families). I graduated from high school in St. Paul, Minnesota and my passion for medicine started there, in St. Paul Preparatory School. I had the opportunity to meet a well-known neurosurgeon, Dr. Mawk, and he woke up something inside me. I´ve always liked physics, biology, anatomy and the way the body works, and Dr. Mawk taught all those courses at school. When I came back in my country, I found out that statistically, we only have one medical doctor for every thousand citizens, and many regions don’t even have even close to the amount of needed doctors. So, I decided I could help to change some of those statistics and become one of them.

In the future, I envision myself as a specialist. I´ve found out I like surgery and I want to become a Surgical Oncologist so I can take care of and treat oncologic cases. In Guatemala, there are few of those specialists and many untreated cases. Unfortunately, Alta Verapaz, where I am from, has the least amount of health care coverage and I would love to have my own hospital and bring the medical treatment to my own community.

Education System Glossary

Since the Guatemalan government only funds education to the end of elementary school, it is not all that common, especially in the rural areas, for someone to graduate from middle school. Thus, these students are awarded an actual degree, called the Basico, which carries some weight when looking for a job, etc.

High school comes in a variety of flavors in Guatemala. All of course are private, and there are seemingly as many curriculums as there are schools. Some high schools focus on particular careers, such as teaching, accounting, surveying, etc. Usually, it takes 3-4 years to complete, and they are awarded with a certificate of competency at the end. In teaching, the certificate entitles one to teach at the elementary school level only. More academically-oriented high schools have a curriculum similar to US schools, which includes language arts, math, science, history, etc. These typically require 4-5 years to complete, and graduates are awarded the Diversificado degree, which is required if the student wishes to continue their education at the University level. This is the degree that most GSSG-supported high school students are pursuing.

The University system in Guatemala is like the high school system, in that there are many degrees, and many ways to get a degree. There is only one public university, the University of San Carlos, and about a dozen private universities. Like high school, students can decide early to specialize in a particular field, and after 2-3 years, graduate with a “tecnico” degree. In education, this degree awards them the title of “Profesor”, and qualifies them to teach all the way through high school. For those wishing to go further in Education or other fields, there is the “Licenciatura” degree, which is awarded after four years of study in one’s major plus an additional year researching and writing a thesis that addresses some national problem in Guatemala. So far, three GSSG students have been awarded their Licenciatura degree, with several more hoping to have theirs by next year.

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