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#TeachingInColor Profile: Angela Uribe

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A lot of media, such as movies, can be perceived as scripted depictions that intend to mimic real life. Though parts may be based on true events, movies often exaggerate to intensify an emotion and elicit a reaction. Portrayals in movies can feel surreal, leaving audience members to toil with the probability of scenarios occurring in real life.

For Graham High School teacher Angela Uribe Romero, the experience of leaving home to become a teacher in North Carolina felt like something one might see in a movie. 

It’s possible for others to see things in a person that they may not yet see in themselves, and acknowledgments, advice, and influential interactions can come from unlikely places. This would ultimately be true for Uribe Romero.

Now a Spanish teacher, the idea of teaching language was introduced by her own high school teacher. Not having the most favorable relationship with this teacher at the time, she initially rejected the suggestion. Yet, as time would tell, she began a pursuit to become an educator that significantly changed her life. 

Angela Uribe Romero, Graham High School Spanish teacher and CREED #TeachingInColor Educator of the Year. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Decision to become a teacher

Uribe Romero was raised in a small family in Concepción, Chile. She expressed that many of her accomplishments stemmed from the benefit of having parents who were very involved in her growth and education. When applying to college, Uribe Romero said that she didn’t know what to study until she thought back to her former teacher recommending that she studies something in language.

“Maybe I should follow her advice,” she recalled.  

Eventually, she would venture to the Universidad de Concepción. There, she had the opportunity to engage with classmates from different countries. Though she was accustomed to traveling for fun, the experience sparked her interest in living somewhere else for a period.

After receiving her degree, Uribe Romero went on to become an English as a second language (ESL) teacher in Chile. On one sleepless night in 2018, Uribe Romero experienced the moment that she likens to a movie.

While scrolling through Facebook, she came across an ad from Participate Learning, a program whose mission is to “unite our world through global learning.” The program invites international teachers to apply to teach in the United States.

At that moment, Uribe Romero considered, “Maybe I should apply.” 

Classroom of Angela Uribe Romero, Graham High School Spanish teacher and CREED #TeachingInColor Educator of the Year. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Taking the leap of faith

Uribe Romero said she submitted her application without much expectation. However, within a week, she received an email follow up to her application. Shortly thereafter, she was invited for an interview and later a teaching demonstration. When Uribe Romero was accepted to the program, she couldn’t believe she would really be leaving her home country for this new endeavor. 

“At that point, I had to sit down with my husband like, ‘Are we really doing this?’” she stated. For her family, moving to the United States “meant leaving everything.” Faced with such a life-changing decision, Uribe and her husband agreed, “Let’s just do it. Let’s see what happens.”

In 2019, Uribe Romero began her five-year journey with the program in Alamance county. Uribe Romero relocated alone first with her family joining her after they were able to sell their property and other possessions. Some initial challenges included things such as obtaining a license or accessing transportation. 

As someone who could already speak English, Uribe Romero says that the language sounded different from what she was accustomed to and required time to adjust.

“I was questioning myself like, ‘Did I ever learn English back at home?’ I had teachers from England, teachers from the United States, teachers from Scotland, different accents, you know. I was exposed to the language. I came here like, ‘I can’t understand anybody,’” she said.

Uribe Romero encountered challenges within the classroom as well. In the midst of adjusting to the new environment and culture, she had experiences such as when a student told her to go back to her country that she tried to keep to herself and would cry about while she was alone.

“Maybe I should go back to my family and, you know, the things that I know,” she thought. 

Making the shift

However, Uribe Romero decided, “​​Maybe I can just deal with that and not take it personally.” She discussed the specific matter one-on-one with that particular student, resulting in the student shifting their demeanor the rest of the school year.

Overall, Uribe Romero centered her approach on empathy with her students, understanding that “the kids are bringing so much stuff into the classroom the same way I bring my own luggage.”

Uribe Romero led with asking questions and conversing with students, which she feels has contributed greatly to the relationship building and students feeling safe in her classroom. 

Angela Uribe Romero, Graham High School Spanish teacher and CREED #TeachingInColor Educator of the Year. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Eventually, Uribe Romero’s husband and children made the transition to North Carolina. She continued to progress in the new system thanks in part to the mentorship that she received at her school.

A valuable lesson that she learned herself and emphasized to her students over the years is the importance of learning about other cultures. She states that she has been able to hold on to her language and identity while still embracing the richness of culture in a new place. 

“​​I’m not going to lose myself in this new culture, I’m going to just embrace it and take the best out of it and put it in me. Then, if I go somewhere else, I’m going to take a piece of America with me and share it somewhere else,” Uribe Romero said.

She compared her love for her Chilean culture and embrace of a new one to a puzzle, saying, “I would like to have another piece in it, but I’m not going to remove another one because of that.” 

Acknowledgment of her impact

Uribe Romero’s care and passion as an educator has garnered the recognition of her students, leadership, and peers. Similar to before, she feels that individuals have recognized something within her that she had not recognized herself.

One example of this is a student recommending her for the LatinxEd fellowship. It was through the fellowship that Uribe Romero was first exposed to the concept of imposter syndrome and the common tendency to doubt one’s own ability. 

CREED’s #TeachingInColor Educator of the Year award recipients. Left to right: Angela Uribe Romero, CiCi Weston, and Franchone Bey. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Especially being a teacher from another country, Uribe Romero says that she was hesitant to pursue leadership opportunities or even be vocal when she saw something that needed to be changed. Those are things that the fellowship supported her with further developing.

Her growth is also inclusive of being open to receiving praise and acknowledgment from her peers regarding her work and impact.

Last year, Uribe Romero was awarded the 22-23 Graham High School Teacher of the Year. Uribe was also one of the Center for Racial Equity in Education‘s 2024 #TeachingInColor Educators of the Year recipients. These moments have served as a testament to the impact that others see her making both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Looking ahead

Uribe Romero has now completed her five years with the Participate Learning program and anticipates the journey that lies ahead. When reflecting on her experience, she said, “Moving to another country leaving everything behind is a jump of faith because you don’t know what is expecting you on the other side.” 

Yet, particularly as a message to others embarking on the journey, she shared, “If you have something holding you back, you’re not going to fully enjoy the new journey or the new stage in your journey. You have to be brave because it’s going to be lonely. It’s going to be challenging. It’s gonna be frustrating at some points, but it’s also going to be fun. You’re going to meet great people along the journey.”

Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.