Carlos Barajas and Edgar Martinez know what it’s like to be first.
Both are first-generation Americans. Their parents immigrated from Mexico.
Both are on track to be the first in their families to go to college.
And now they are part of the first class of Washington World Fellows.
The fellows were chosen based on their determination and enthusiasm for learning, despite obstacles, according to Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib’s office. Out of about 300 applicants statewide, 15 were selected. Two of them — Barajas and Martinez — are from Snohomish County.
The fellowship includes a six-week study abroad program this summer in Spain, where the students can earn college credit through Central Washington University. They’ll live with Spanish families, explore the country’s culture and sights, and study. Afterward, the fellows will receive help in preparing for college.
Barajas and Martinez are 16 and sophomores, Barajas at Snohomish High School and Martinez at Marysville Pilchuck High School. Neither thought they would land the competitive fellowships.
“I got the letter. I couldn’t believe it,” Barajas said. “It was so surreal.”
When the teacher who nominated Martinez for the program told him he got in, his first instinct was to call his mom, he said, but she was at work cleaning houses. Martinez couldn’t wait to get home to share the news.
“I’m the first in my whole family, cousins and everything, to go to Europe,” Martinez said. “It’s something my mom’s really, really proud of me for doing.”
Sitting in a common area at Marysville Pilchuck last week, he paused, then grinned. “In two months, I’m going to be in Spain. I can’t believe it.”
Barajas is excited to earn college credit while learning about another culture. He’s been to Mexico to visit his grandparents, but has not traveled to any other countries, he said.
He wants to be a lawyer, maybe in family or criminal law. His goal is to be someone powerful, he said.
When he thinks of power, he doesn’t think of wealth, fame or political pull. He thinks of his mom, a single mother who works on a dairy farm and has always encouraged him to do well in school and go on to great things.
“She is so powerful and inspiring,” he said.
Barajas used to be painfully shy, he said. He forced himself to break out of his shell by joining speech and debate club and running for president of Future Business Leaders of America at his school. To gain confidence, he had to abandon his comfort zone.
Studying in a foreign country and staying with a host family will be the ultimate trip out of his comfort zone, he said.
He hopes that, as part of the first class of Washington World Fellows, he can inspire others.
Martinez plays soccer, was elected class president and takes multiple advanced classes. His mom and younger sister are his biggest supporters, he said. He’d like to go to college somewhere local, maybe the University of Washington, so he’s not far from them. He aims to be an optometrist.
He’s been doing some research on Spain, he said, and is excited to experience the art, culture and people firsthand.
Sponsors who are helping cover costs for the fellowships include the Association of Washington Generals, Fortive Company, Boeing, the Schultz Family Foundation, Microsoft, Consul Luis Fernando Esteban and Vicki Christopherson.
Though Martinez hasn’t gone to Spain yet, the World Fellows program already has changed his life, he said. It’s been a confidence boost and brings college into clearer focus.
“I imagine there are other really good students who didn’t get in,” he said. “I did. This is going to help get me to where I want to be in my life.”
And when other young people in his family start thinking about their futures, he’ll be the one they can come to with questions about college.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org