From midwife to a professional artist: know Andrea Silva Urzua Global Connections member

In this life we should not be limited to other people’s expectations. We should always have the right to expand. The chance to be better, and bigger. To be whoever we want and, especially, someone who makes the difference wherever we go. Andrea Silva is exactly like this. Is she an immigrant from Chile in the USA? Yes. She is also an amazing artist. She is a midwife, a mother, and a strong woman. An example that human being is multifaceted, intelligent and capable of many things.

Andrea moved to State College in 2016. She came with her husband Thomas, who was a PhD student at Penn State. Living abroad, in the beginning, was hard. Andrea barely could speak English. She felt lonely and sad for not being able to make new friends. She also missed her work as midwife and started losing her confidence. It was when she started learning English at Mid State Literacy School.

Researching on the internet she found Global Connections. She became enchanted by the possibility of trying different meetings, like craft activities, and English classes. She wanted to be able to speak English as fast as she could. “I tried to get evolved because I thought it would be fun and they would have more activities that I could do by myself. For example, it was fun to do a craft activity while learning to speak English.” At that point Andrea didn´t dream about the possibility of one day being an artist.

In these classes, Andrea met her best friend in the USA. “When you are living abroad, the connections you have, like friendships, are different from the ones you used to have in your home country. You have to work hard in order to meet people, to expose yourself. Sometimes, when your English is not that good, you feel ashamed that you are not talking or people will not understand you. Because we were in the same condition (international people at Global Connections) it was easier for us to understand each other. We knew it was difficult for us to express ourselves in English”, says Andrea.

“Global Connections was important for me not only to learn English. It was important for the people I have been meeting this whole time, and also because my husband had his connections at the University. Finally I could have my own connections, find a place where I can feel secure, where I can express myself.”

In 2018 Andrea was feeling homesick. At that moment she decided to take part in an internet challenge. She painted and won that challenge. That was the beginning of her passion for painting with watercolors. “It gave me some kind of relief. I started painting a little bit every day.” In 2019 she went to Chile to work as a midwife. While there, she decided to have painting classes. “I feel that watercolor saved me. I found some purpose in my life. My heart is full now.”   

She remembers her path. “In the beginning I couldn’t see painting as a gift. I was trying to fill some spaces. My work (as midwife) was very important, it was all my life. Here I was not having this same feeling. I really liked to help people. I didn’t have that same purpose and it was hard. And, at some point, the watercolor came to me and saved me.” She spent eight months in Chile.

 After returning to the USA, Andrea started painting more regularly. In 2021, during the pandemic, she was pregnant. At that point, she started to think about her art more professionally. Also, she started meeting other artists and people who enjoyed her work. She started to build new connections in this art area. “I´m glad that this community (State College area) has space for local artists. There are so many great artists here. Everyone has different paths and you can show to people what you are doing.”  

Now, Andrea is the proud and lovely mother of two beautiful kids: her son Ernesto and her amazing art. “Ernesto is a gift. He changed me. I am not the same person I was before. I think now he gives the energy to do things. I want to prove to him that I can do it and he also can be whoever he wants. Even though I discovered I want to paint later in my life. He knows that his mother can do whatever. I can be a midwife. I can be a painter. If you really try you can do whatever you want in your life. Now he is my muse.” 

About Global Connections, Andrea tells how important the organization became to her life. “Global Connections has always been by my side. It is like a second family. It is something that you don´t think that you will have in a place so far from your home country. It’s a very good resource for international people. I’m very happy to have found them. I’m very happy with the friends and family I met there. I’m especially glad for the teachers. Bob (Persiko), for example, was always so supportive. He believed in me before I could do it. I´m very grateful for that. I couldn’t see myself without this organization in my life.” 

Thank you for making the difference

Thanks to everyone who contributed to Global Connections during the Centre Gives campaign. This was our first involvement in this activity of the Centre Foundation. In the two days of this big giving event, 22 people made donations totaling $845. In addition, GC qualified for a Last Chance prize of $250. The actual final amount of the award will be announced in June. The funds will help us expand our outreach, provide a welcoming environment for international visitors, and foster mutual understanding and respect.

Message from the President – Giving Back

In the spirit of Centre Gives, we in Global Connections should develop programs that give back to the community. Not having a paid staff, the initiative for such actions falls on the members. We need people to think creatively about projects that could be developed and to be willing to turn an idea into a reality. Are there people in the community who need help? Do we have talents we could offer in support of others?

As an example, the State College Area School District approached us seeking an Arabic speaker to provide a translation of a school form to use with Arabic-speaking parents. We were able to help. An international visitor needs to build her confidence in English. We are helping her. A local service organization asked if GC could find out what an Iranian senior citizen’s needs were. We responded.

What if an international visitor needs temporary accommodation? Do we have the resources in our membership to be of assistance? Is there a newcomer in our area who is seeking to break out of her isolation and meet people? I encourage our members to not only bring to our attention individual in need but also help us develop solutions that enhance GC’s community outreach.

Bob Persiko 

President of Global Connections


Cultural luncheon shows Brazil

Good food, good music, and good conversation. This was the recipe for the successful Brazilian luncheon. The event promoted by Global Connections got around 30 people from different nationalities together, on May 5th, at Saint Andrews Church. The cultural luncheons are an initiative to enrich cultural understanding.

Feijoada, a traditional (and delicious) dish from the Brazilian cuisine made with beans, was served by the Brazilian Munchies. They also served rice, farofa and, for dessert, a brigadeiro. Bruce Truitt, Global Connections member, played and sang Brazilian music during the event.

Marco Damasceno, Brazilian Global Connections member, did a beautiful presentation introducing how big and amazing Brazil is. He showed the differences between all the five regions of the country and cultural aspects of each one.  

The event couldn’t be the same without all volunteers who helped plan, prepare the place, serve the meals and clean everything. Our special appreciation to all of you who made this cultural luncheon become true. We are also thankful to to Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church for opening its doors for us.

Check photos on our Facebook page. 

Qian Zhang tells about her path in the USA

There is a famous quote by Pliny the Elder that says: “home is where the heart is”. Qian Zhang can prove it. Born in Wuhan, China, she crossed the world to study in the USA ten years ago. Now she is a successful young woman living in State College.

Qian came to the USA for the first time in 2009, when she was still a college student to participate in a Model United Nations Competition in New York. After her graduation she worked for two years in Beijing. Then she decided to move to the USA for a master’s degree and, in her own words, also an adventure in a foreign land”! “I am glad I decided to do that. I met my husband, the love of my life, found my way into a fulfilling (even though challenging) career, and met so many wonderful friends!”

When she remembers the beginning of her life living abroad, she says that her first impression of New York was very different from her first impression of State College. “New York in 2009 reminded me of Beijing, but with even more billboards and skyscrapers. Very interesting! My first impression of State College is – it is beautiful! As a person who always lived in big cities, I felt intrigued by all the nature and cute houses surrounding us. There are also deers, groundhogs, squirrels… It’s a very lovely place to live.”

Her path in the USA was not only surrounded by good feelings. For some time she felt lonely. “I did not have a lot of friends in State College when I first came here. Even though I had coworkers and my husband, there was still something missing in my life. Later, I started my group, the Culture Exchange Group, in order to welcome friends of different backgrounds. I slowly got a chance to meet so many wonderful friends! I also enjoyed collaborations with Global Connections. Through the collaboration, I built even more connections and found more lovely people. I feel very grateful for that.” Now she is feeling at home. “I feel home is a place where we build our career and family. It can be anywhere we chose it to be.”

About her collaborations with Global Connections, she remembers that she met the organization in a seminar, where she also met her friend Hilary. “She was hosting an international women’s book club for Global Connections. I thought that was very interesting, so I joined her and enjoyed a wonderful session.” Now Qian coordinates the Cultural Exchange Group and sees with good eyes the collaboration with Global Connections. “I really enjoyed that! It helped me get to know more interesting people and also build a more connected community! I really enjoyed all the collaborations between Culture Exchange Group and Global Connections! Both groups look for ways to create a loving environment for people of different backgrounds. It is so wonderful!”

New beginnings for Sabrina and Maryam

Sabrina Lima and Maryam Barzegar, who also serve on the Executive Committee, are moving away from State College. Maryam will move to New York, where her husband has been awarded a post doc position at Columbia University. Sabrina is going to Nashville, where her husband will teach architecture and be head of the digital fabrication lab at Belmont University. 

Maryam wrote about what GC has meant to her in the following words: “Global Connections is my first home here and I feel connected to that. Last year before joining the discussion group, I was so depressed and felt alone. I didn’t have motivation to go out even for a walk, because I was thinking I don’t belong here. But yesterday (June 4) I had so many friends to have a picnic with and spend time with, and it’s all because of you and your efforts to make a friendly welcoming environment for new people in the group.”

Sabrina also told a little bit about her involvement with GC: “I arrived with my family in State College in 2020. Only two months later, the pandemic started. The world took a completely different way. At that point, we had to lock ourselves at home to keep safe. Mother of two children and full of uncertainty, I feared for our future. I was worried about our health. I also was worried about our mental health. I was already starting to get involved with Global Connections when the pandemic (and the lockdown) started. At that moment I imagined that I wouldn’t be able to study and meet new people. But it didn’t happen. Despite all the craziness of the situation, Global Connections kept working. They moved some activities to a virtual area. In a short time I was taking part in book groups, English classes and a discussion group. More than helping me to improve my English skills, Global Connections made me feel part of something bigger. They gave me good friends, helped me to engage myself in this amazing community and also to be ready to face new challenges. I truly appreciate all Global Connections helped me to achieve. The circumstances were not the best, but GC’s volunteers never gave up. This is an amazing project. Long live Global Connections.” 

Sabrina and Maryam, we appreciate all your efforts for Global Connections. We wish you all the best in this new moment of your lives.