A Picture of Perseverance

Ninth-grader’s passion for learning the English language brought her from Colombia to FCS.

Ana Gabriela Otalora Reyes has dreamed of studying in the United States ever since she watched her aunt travel to Fredericksburg to work as an au pair when Ana was 4 years old.

“[My aunt] had been studying in college to become an English teacher here,” Ana said. “That kind of sparked my passion for learning new languages and traveling to new places—there is just so much to learn.”

Ana’s aunt, Ana Maria Reyes Rosillo, ended up staying in Fredericksburg and marrying Thomas Johnson, a 2004 graduate of Fredericksburg Christian School. Now Ana Maria Johnson, she is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Lafayette Upper Elementary School in Fredericksburg, and Johnson teaches ESL at the city’s James Monroe High School. 

Now a 9th grader at FCS, Ana has lived with her aunt and uncle since she first came to the U.S. to attend school in her fifth-grade year. Although she came to the U.S. at age 10, her family started the visa process that would allow her to live and study in the country when she was 6 years old. Her visa was denied three times, with a required six-month wait between each application.

“We kept trying, because I was so eager and passionate and excited,” she said. “I appreciate so much everything that my family has done for me because they did not give up on that. It was God’s work, and His timing was perfect for when it finally came through.”

She landed at FCS thanks to her uncle’s experience at the school.

Ana’s passion for studying in the United States is rooted in her passion for language. In Colombia, she said, she was able to take basic English classes that gave her a foundation in vocabulary and grammar, but she had a hard time finding opportunities to practice her speaking and listening skills.

When she arrived in Fredericksburg—a journey that required an eight-hour bus ride to the Colombian capital of Bogota, followed by a six-hour flight to Washington—she had a limited understanding of English.

“Understanding what people were saying to me was a challenge,” she said.

On her first day at FCS, in October of her fifth-grade year, Ana remembers being on Facetime with her mother right up to the moment where she got out of the car to walk into the school.

“My whole family was very excited,” she recalls. “I had been waiting for this day for so long.”

She remembers a warm welcome from her teacher — Mrs. Marcum — and classmates. 

She also remembers how hard those first months were. With limited English and no previous experience in an American school, she often had to guess and look for other clues as to how the school day was structured, how lunch was served, and where activities like recess happened.

Homework took hours, with help from her aunt and uncle, as she had to learn a completely new vocabulary for the math and science concepts she’d already learned in school.

She missed her close-knit family at home, and temperatures were starting to get colder—another reminder that she was far from home.

“It was definitely something new, but everybody was so helpful,” Ana said. “I thought about my family in Colombia, and all the sacrifices they had made for me to be here. I needed to work hard for them. She also acknowledges God’s hand in her journey, “I knew it was no mistake that I was here.”