Whoever says Facebook takes the place of real friendship has never experienced its ability to turn strangers into friends. Over the summer on a Facebook group for Northwestern’s incoming Class of 2016, Kristen Roth ’16 was excited—and surprised—to see that Arianna Momsen ’16, another Northwestern-bound student, had posted that she was born in Colombia.
“Me too!” Kristen replied on Facebook. “When you see someone is from the same country as you, you can’t pass that by,” she said.
Discovering a shared culture, Arianna and Kristen immediately connected. Through Facebook chats and texts, they quickly discovered their bond went much deeper. When Arianna asked Kristen how she came to be in the U.S., an avalanche of similarities appeared.
They found out that not only were they both adopted from Colombia by families in Minnesota, but they were also born in the same Bogotá hospital just six months and six days apart and adopted from the same orphanage, Ayudame (“help me” in Spanish).
“I was crying when I found out,” admitted Arianna. “It was just that initial shock.”
Kristen was equally shocked. She literally got off Facebook and exclaimed to her mother, “You won’t believe what just happened!”
The two became fast friends over the summer, talking, texting and Skyping each other. They created a countdown to college and since they both lived in the Twin Cities, they met in August at IKEA for some last minute college shopping.
They connected again at Northwestern’s Multicultural Orientation, which welcomes international and multicultural students and celebrates the diversity represented on campus.
Both Arianna and Kristen’s parents raised them to celebrate their Latin American culture and immersed them as much as possible. In fact, their paths crossed unknowingly during their childhoods, attending La Semana, a Latin American cultural camp (where Kristen’s older sister was in the same group as Arianna). Each has been back to her birthplace in Colombia once before and their parents were part of the Parents of Latin American Children group.
Celebrating their culture
Though technically still teenagers, Arianna and Kristen possess a wisdom gained from having a global perspective.
“Some people take it for granted that they look like their siblings,” shared Kristen. “Being adopted, I look nothing like my sister and nothing like my parents. It kind of redefines what family is. That helps my faith. Because my family of God doesn’t look like each other at all.”
Arianna agreed. “We are all built differently. Sometimes people ask my parents if we are just a group because we look so different. That’s not offensive to me.”
What they do find offensive are ignorant and inappropriate comments about their birth country. “I’ve been called the granddaughter of a drug lord before,” admitted Arianna. “I was ready to smack that boy silly.”
Kristen has heard the same. “People make jokes about Colombia being a huge drug country and the drug lords. It’s very hurtful,” she said. “I even had an adult come up to me last year and ask me if I was from the area that made the drugs. I was very shocked a grown adult asked me this. It’s just very ignorant.”
Ambassadors for cultural education
But they also feel empowered to do something about it. “I want to raise awareness about all these stereotypes,” said Kristen. “Every country is beautiful in its own way. Colombia is gorgeous and has all these pretty mountains. People don’t know about it because they just think about the negative. But that isn’t what defines a country.”
Arianna, who wants to teach South American and Central American history, agreed. “People think it’s unsafe. But I still want to go back.”
Instead of rejecting a country for its unsavory attributes, Kristen and Arianna embrace their Colombian heritage.
“It’s fun to have an ethnicity to be proud of,” shared Kristen. “I love that I can tan easily, and people say we have the most beautiful hair! My friends back in high school never knew what they were. They were like, ‘I’m white.’ ‘Well what does that mean? Are you German? Are you Swedish?’ They wouldn’t know.”
Arianna summarized, “Everybody has a culture, but not everybody knows it.”
Opportunities for a future
Kristen describes what it means to appreciate her Colombian heritage and be grateful for the opportunities she has in the U.S. “I love that I can celebrate a culture that I know about, but I can be in Minnesota celebrating it rather than anywhere else. We have the best of both worlds being at college, getting a higher education that we might not have gotten if we were back in Colombia.”
Arianna added, “The opportunities [in Colombia] are much narrower than they are here. You look at what those children have, and some of them have absolutely nothing. Here we get a chance to grow.”
Though only a few months into their college education, they have dreams that involve their culture and each other. “I foresee mission trips and study abroad trips for both of us, maybe, hopefully together,” said Arianna.
Kristen, who studied abroad in Costa Rica in high school and stays in close contact with her host family, has a goal to return to that country and help the community. “I would love to go help out there and also Colombia, to make a difference in my birth country,” she said. “I want to help out with the orphanages. I’m hoping to do that through Spanish and whatever else I end up doing in my career.”
For now, Arianna and Kristen are adjusting to college life and thankful for the support of each other’s friendship.
“It’s just a great thing knowing that there’s someone else that knows what it’s like,” said Kristen. “I know that there’s someone that can relate.”
“I am so happy that I came to know [Kristen], and I am so glad that we connected,” said Arianna. “I really don’t think that I would have opened up as much if I didn’t have her here. By God’s grace it came to be.”
Arianna and Kristen aren’t the first students to make a global personal connection at Northwestern. At Multicultural Orientation three years ago, Bernice Fernandes ’13 and Miriam Navamanie ’13 found out they were born in the same hospital in Kenya.