- Campus Life
After just a few minutes with junior nursing major Freya Baez, it's hard to imagine that, even for one moment, she could be anything but the smiling, charming, and very chatty young woman she is today. But the Commerce High School graduate first came to American International College uncertain about her talents and self-conscious about her limited English.
Today she is confident, outgoing, and quick to adapt to any situation—from dorm life to delivering babies in the Dominican Republic.
Born in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and the oldest of three girls, Baez and her family moved to America, where she started 8th grade in Newark, N.J. The family later came to Western Massachusetts.
"I had English classes before moving," Baez said "but all I could really say was 'hi' and 'ABC.'" Until her graduation from Commerce, she was in a bilingual classroom, and never had an English-only class. Her commitment to schoolwork, volunteer work with UNICEF and the Red Cross, and sense of purpose led to several academic distinctions, the most fruitful of which was winning the Student of Character award sponsored by AIC, ABC News 40, and the Republican newspaper. The article she penned for the Republican showed a greater command of English than she would give herself credit for, and painted a picture of a young woman who was articulate, in touch with her roots, and passionate about her education.
Baez knew she wanted to pursue nursing and later become a midwife. Her grandmother was a nurse, and Baez recalls going to the hospital with her as a child to watch her work. After watching a video of a birth in high school, she knew instantly what she wanted to do. American International College made the decision on where to go very easy.
"I'm really close to my mom, so AIC seemed like a natural fit. Even though I'm in Springfield, I can still feel like it's Dominican Republic in my house," she said.
Director of Freshman Admissions, Kim LaBlanc was quick to recognize Baez's potential and employed her in the admissions office as a student tour guide. LaBlanc said "Freya is the most sincere and hardworking student I have ever had the privilege to work with. She has such a quiet and yet helpful way in which she assists to help others around her. For Freya is it all about teamwork. She will make an excellent mid-wife in the future. Freya brings with her strength, beauty, intelligence and overall the desire to be the most helpful and skilled at anything she attempts."
She gushes about the helpfulness of her professors. "They really encourage you, and they bring their personal experience," she said. But it's her Pouch Hall dorm mates who really have her heart. "Living on campus, you get to know everybody," she said.
Baez calls other Pouch residents her sisters. "We all help each other. I don't know how to do my makeup, so when I needed to go out they all helped me. I do their hair. We cook together."
She was also excited at the international community she can be part of on campus. "I have a friend from Poland! I have a friend from China and we listen to Chinese music and make Chinese food. I learn about so many countries. I learned belly dancing from my Indian friends," she explained, adding that she learned to cook while living on campus.
During a recent two-week trip back to Santiago, Baez volunteered at the Jose Maria Cabral y Baez hospital, where she had to quickly jump into performing tasks she had never practiced before. Diving right into a maternity ward, she attended births, attended mothers, and cleaned and cared for newborns. "The first time I saw a real birth, I couldn't eat meat for a week. But I thought, this is what I want to do, I better overcome that."
Baez is excited for her upcoming clinical at Baystate Medical Center and graduating in 2012, but hopes to go beyond being a local nurse. She expressed interest in Doctors without Borders, and traveling to South America to help rural women prepare for childbirth and motherhood, and is excited about combining modern medicine with plant-based treatments based in older cultures.
AIC gets the credit for helping Baez grow up and approach life more confidently, she said. "I used to ask my mom 'How am I gonna learn everything in four years? How am I gonna learn to be a nurse in four years? Now I feel like I'm getting there."