Maria Elena Soria was born into a hard-working, middle-class family in Colombia, who always taught her to place education as a priority because it was the only asset that no one could take away from her.

At the age of seventeen, she decided to pursue a career in the criminal law field and in 2008, she obtained her license to practice law in Colombia. However, a few months after she graduated, she was granted residency in the U.S., and with her sights set on a career in international law, moved to Chicago by the end of that year.

She knew that it was imperative to learn the language, so once she arrived in the city, she enrolled in ESL classes at Richard Daley College. While she studied English, she worked in a grocery store, because no law firm would hire “an inexperienced foreign lawyer who barely could communicate.” She began to feel as though she was wasting her time chasing a dream that seemed to be unobtainable. And while she was lucky enough to have her uncles close by, her immediate family was still in Colombia.

But she had excellent professors at Daley College who always reminded her not to forget her roots and not to give up on her dreams – Professor Farzin Yazdanfar became a great mentor and friend who advised her to practice English every day.

Once she finished her ESL classes, she enrolled in a paralegal program, got a certificate, and worked as a paralegal in a law firm for three years, never forgetting her goal was to become an international lawyer.

Once she had some experience working in a law firm, she applied to and was accepted into an international law program at DePaul University. Before she enrolled, she joined the U.S. Army Reserve to help repay her student loans, but in 2015, she began classes. In December 2017, she graduated from law school and plans to take Illinois’ bar exam in July.

“Getting my license is only the beginning, but after nine years, I can say with certainty that I am getting closer to what I want. I hope that whoever is reading my story does not have to wait so long to fulfill their dreams, but even if the future looks bleak, do not ever give up on your dreams!”

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