Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with neighboring St. Paul, Minnesota, are known the Twin Cities. Despite growing up in Minneapolis, for undergraduate nursing student Isabela Alvarez Harris, it’s Cuenca, Ecuador, not St. Paul, that is her personal twin city.
“There are two places I call home. One of them is Cuenca, a small European style city in the mountains of southern Ecuador. It is full of beautiful architecture and rivers lined with flowering trees and people walking their dogs (and an occasional cow),” she said.
“Everyone greets each other with one kiss on the right cheek and probably knows who your parents and grandparents are. The second place I call home is Minneapolis, a much bigger city that I lived in for most of my life.”
For Harris, it was her experience attending an international boarding school, United World College-USA (UWC-USA), in New Mexico that saw her embracing her Hispanic heritage. In school, she met Hispanic and Latino students from different cultures and backgrounds.
“It was there that I gained an appreciation for an aspect of my identity that I had chosen not to embrace until that point,” she said.
The network she developed while at UWC-USA is one she sourced when coming to Case Western Reserve University. Harris said she connected with students from the UWC network of international boarding schools, and the group gathers to listen to music, share food, and laugh about the differences in their Spanish dialects.
“For most of my life, being Hispanic was a source of shame. I would feel embarrassed when my parents spoke to me in Spanish when we were in public, and I tried my best to assimilate with the non-Hispanic kids at my school,” she said.
“Now that I am older, I have come to gain a sense of joy and pride in my ethnicity. I have the unique ability to understand two vastly different cultures and bridge the gap between them—something I know will be invaluable in my future in healthcare.”
That connection and awareness of her own heritage and others is a valuable skill for a young nurse to possess. From a young age, Harris knew nursing was a path forward that she wanted to pursue.
“Growing up with underlying health conditions, I spent a lot of time in hospitals. What could have been a series of unpleasant or even traumatic experiences was made tolerable by the incredible nurses that took care of me,” she said.
“I decided to go into nursing to provide that experience to someone else, and I decided that the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing’s direct entry BSN program with clinicals beginning in the first year was the perfect place to receive my education.”
Get to know Isabela
What is your favorite Hispanic food(s)? Llapingacho (Ecuadorian potato latke) and anything with lime and salt.
Do you like to cook? Yes! I love cooking with lots of veggies and spices. My best dish in a homemade orange chicken with fresh ginger.
Who is your favorite band/musical performer? I don’t have a favorite artist, but I love to listen to music in different languages (French, Spanish and Italian).
What is your favorite book? My favorite book at the moment is The Science of Sleep by Wallace B. Mendelson.
How do you spend your free time? Any free time that I have is usually spend organizing my space and cleaning (I can’t stand a messy room) or Facetiming family and friends from back home. I also work as a hostess at Mia Bella restaurant in Little Italy.