By SHEILA SARMIENTO
The dream started when Alberto Puertas heard about the good educational opportunities of the University Brigham Young from his American missionary companions as he was serving a mission in Arequipa, Peru.
Puertas was born and raised in Lima, Peru. Before his mission he started attending a university in Lima, but the frequent teachers’ strikes and problems in the education system made it difficult to pursue an education in his city.
“It caught my attention that BYU was a university led by the church, and that it was a university with a good reputation in the United States,” Puertas said.
Puertas was the first person in his family to come to study to the United States. He came to Provo by himself leaving behind his family, friends and culture, and without knowing much about what to expect from the BYU experience.
Now, 24 years later, Puertas uses his career to help BYU international students succeed by providing academic advisement.
After much effort and sacrifice, Puertas has achieved the American dream by finishing his education, getting a master’s degree in counseling and guidance, and enjoying every day of his work as a BYU international advising specialist.
“We owe you so much, and we miss you a lot,” said two former BYU students from Jerusalem in a voice-mail message. “We hope one day we can pay you back for all the things you have done for us.”
During the 10 years that Puertas has worked as a BYU advising specialist, he has helped many international students who come from all over the world in search of their own American dream.
Puertas helps the students choose majors and classes that will most benefit them. He also helps them when they are struggling with bad grades or whenever they are encountering any problems adjusting to a new country, language and life style as foreign students.
Puertas came as an international student in September of 1983. He was one of the few Latinos on campus and often felt lonely and homesick.
“It was an interesting process and very difficult in many cases,” Puertas said. “There were not many Latinos on campus, and I often missed my culture, music and food. Things were not like they are now, where you can go to an authentic Latino restaurant or to a Latin dance whenever you want.”
While trying to adjust to his new lifestyle as a college student in a country very different from his, Puertas got sick with asthma and had to stop going to school for a year.
During those difficult times, Puertas tried to focus on the positive aspects of his experience.
“I reminded myself constantly of the great opportunities that this university and this country were offering to me and how fortunate I was to be here,” Puertas said.
Months later, Puertas met his wife Kristen and they now have two children. He graduated with bachelor’s degree in sociology teaching in 1990 and worked four years teaching Spanish and psychology at Meridian school, a private school located on 900 East in Provo.
Years later he came back to BYU to get his master’s degree in counseling and guidance, and was hired as an international adviser immediately after his graduation.
“People are mistaken if they think this country is a fantasy land where money is easy to gain,” Puertas said. “This is a country where people cry and suffer, but at the same time it is a country where opportunities will arise if we put our heart into what we are determined to do.”