Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
Coming to American wasn’t what Juan Calderon wanted at the time.
It meant he would have to leave his friends in Mexico and come to a country where he didn’t speak the language.
But his mother, Nohemi Lora, lost her job at the bank and wanted to make a better life for her and her son.
Her sister was already living in the United States, so Nohemi and Juan set off for Salisbury.
“When I got here, I didn’t speak any English at all,” Juan said.
That made life as a sixth-grader at Knox Middle School tough.
After a year, Juan transferred to Southeast Middle School and took an English as a Second Language class. He was also starting to learn English by listening to other students.
By eighth grade, things were going better.
“That was my first year getting straight A’s in America,” he said.
Juan also won awards in math, English and social studies when he graduated from Southeast.
The biggest change in coming to America was changing classes. Juan said students in Mexican schools don’t change classes until high school. And schools don’t prepare lunch, either. Parents bring their child something to eat at lunchtime every day.
Those first two or three years were the hardest and Juan said he was more than a little bit discouraged at times.
“Sometimes I would think is this going to be like this forever,” he said. “When I started picking up English, everything started getting easier and easier,” Juan said.
Juan credits one teacher at Southeast, Christine Blackwell, with his early success.
“She taught me so many things. She was a model in my life. … She always encouraged me, and she always recognized my effort,” he said.
Juan didn’t know what to expect from high school. His mom couldn’t tell him about honors or AP classes or what GPA (grade point average) meant. He enrolled in standard courses and soon found out he wanted to take higher level courses.
“I knew that would pull up my GPA,” he said.
Juan took three honors courses his sophomore year and enrolled in AP courses his junior and senior years ó he had five this year.
“That pulled me up to be in the top 10 of my class,” he said.
Juan said he’s always been motivated to do well in school even though it was hard at times because of his family.
“I’ll be the first one going to college in my family. I always try to accomplish my dreams. Also I want my family to be proud of me,” he said.
Juan has done well enough to earn several scholarships from National Starch, Rotary Club, Optimist Club and the Parent Teacher Student Association at Salisbury High. They’ll help pay his tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he starts in the fall.
Juan said he’s planning to double major in biology and chemistry with hopes of becoming a doctor.
“I want to help people, especially kids with cancer. Either cardiology or cancer,” he said.
Juan did not know, at first, that he wanted to be in the medical field, but he had a chance to do an internship at Rowan Regional this semester.
“I wanted to do something outside my school. I just signed up for fun,” he said.
After spending some time with the doctors at Rowan Regional, Juan decided “one day I want to be like them.
“You have a really good feeling when you save someone’s life. I want to feel that one day,” he said.
Biology has been his favorite class at Salisbury High and he said his teacher, Terry Jones, is the best teacher at the school.
“We have fun in that class. She knew how to balance between work and fun,” he said.
Juan is feeling a little intimidated by his upcoming first semester at Carolina.
“I don’t know what college is like because my parents didn’t go,” he said.
Even though he’s scared and not sure what to expect, he’s motivated ó especially by his mom.
“I want her to say it was worth it to come to the U.S. My son went to college.”
Juan also had a message for other Hispanic students that may find themselves in his situation.
“I just want to encourage Hispanics that even though it is hard to achieve things in a foreign country, it is possible if you try your best and really want to achieve your dreams,” he said.
“I’m proof of it.”
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or