Grecia Cubillas moved to the US for high school after living in Mexico since she was 3. Now she is living a life that she never thought would happen.
Grecia Cubillas, a 2023 Arizona State University graduate, originally intended to move back to Mexico after she graduated from her Tucson high school in 2019. However, mentorship and scholarship opportunities gave her a greater belief in her capabilities, ultimately leading her to stay in the States for college.
Cubillas was born in Tucson, but at three years old she moved to her mother’s small hometown in Mexico. She returned to Tucson when she was 16 because her mother wanted her to learn English, which she believed would enable more job opportunities in Mexico.
Cubillas loved living in Mexico and being near extended family, so she felt hesitant when her mother wanted to head back to the United States. She felt as if she were leaving part of her life behind, leaving friends she’d known for years that she dreamed of going to high school with.
“The first year [back in the US] was really hard because I would kind of think back to my life in Mexico and all the things that I was missing out on,” Cubillas said.
During her first years of high school, Cubillas never considered going to college in the United States due to the expense–she even told her friends she would start looking at apartments for when she moved back to Mexico after graduation.
One of the first people Cubillas met at Rincon High School was Juana Ambrose. Ambrose was the school’s office manager at the time, and the only office staff who spoke Spanish.
Ambrose introduced Cubillas to a group she ran, a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) support club, to help Spanish-speaking students feel more comfortable and supported.
While Cubillas was not an undocumented student, having the opportunity to be around students with similar experiences to her growing up was a big help in her transition to the US.
Ambrose, who is from Mexico, saw herself in Cubillas—someone who came to a different country, trying to learn a new language to create a better future for herself.
Cubillas quickly picked up English, transferring from her English-second-language courses to full English courses the next year.
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Ambrose saw Cubillas’ outstanding grades and took note.“I’m going to make a leader out of this girl,” she remembers thinking at the time.
As an ASU graduate herself with a master’s in social work, Ambrose pushed Cubillas to consider her options in the United States upon graduation.
“I said, ‘Listen, I came to this country many years ago and look: I have a degree, I have a master’s degree. If I can do it, you can do it,’” Ambrose said.
She persuaded Cubillas to go to the high school’s college center, where she eventually received vouchers to cover the cost for her applications to in-state colleges.
The college center also reviewed her financial situation and helped her apply for scholarships, This included the Barack Obama Scholarship, which provides funds for virtually all qualifying students’ expenses from tuition to housing.
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Meanwhile, Cubillas applied for and was accepted into all three of Arizona’s public universities. Her mom had been urging her to attend the University of Arizona to stay close to home.
And then, Cubillas got the good news: she received the Obama Scholarship, providing a financial path for her to attend college in the United States.
“I remember I was in the car and I just got an email on my phone and she [my mom] was with me and I told her,” she said.
Her mom told her she had to do it if the opportunity was a full-ride scholarship. It was, and she did.
“It just completely changed my whole life,” Cubillas said.
Choosing a Major
Once Cubillas decided on ASU, the next step on her academic journey was to choose a major. She landed on studying global management at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.
“It just kind of really spoke to me and I felt like that was the one,” she said. “I thought I would love to go to a culturally diverse college, learn about other cultures, learn about doing business in other countries.”
ASU’s West campus in Glendale, where the Thunderbird School was located at the time, felt like a perfect fit for Cubillas. She enjoyed the feeling of a small college campus where she could make a personal connection with professors and get a job at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on campus.
Cubillas particularly enjoyed interacting with students from all over the world and hearing their perspectives.
“I eventually found out that a lot of us were here for the same reasons and trying to pursue a better future and just how the same we are, but also how different,” Cubillas said.
Cubillas continued to excel academically, and joined Barrett, The Honors College, in her second year. She was initially worried about how she would perform in the Human Event class, a required honors class notorious for old and complex readings.
However, Cubillas says the class helped to improve her reading and writing skills, and taught her additional topics and perspectives not in her global management classes. Taking part in Barrett also helped her form better relationships with professors through honors contracts.
Stepping even more outside her comfort level, Cubillas studied abroad last year in Madrid, Spain, where she completed a marketing internship.
There, she was able to connect with the local people and gain a sense of the country’s day-to-day culture.
Cubillas is expected to graduate with her master’s in global management in a year’s time, through ASU’s accelerated 4+1 master’s program—something that she used to think was “too much.”
“Sometimes I hesitate a little bit and I think this is a little too much for me, but I just need to not think that about myself,” Cubillas said.
Cubillas said Thunderbird taught her how to navigate different cultures and an ever-connected world. She looks forward to working for an international company, eventually moving back to Mexico or other Latin American countries to put into practice what she has learned.
“I feel like Mexico will always have a very special place in my heart and I even often think, ‘Oh maybe I should go back now,’” Cubillas said. “I honestly miss living there every day.”