When Rommel Martinez arrived in Costa Rica in 2018, he had just turned 18 and was entering his 12th grade year. As a high school student working on his International Baccalaureate diploma, transferring at the end of the program was less than ideal, but Martinez’s circumstances forced him to leave his home country of Nicaragua. Fast forward to 2021, and he’s 21 years-old and studying remotely at Bishop’s University in Canada. Despite significant obstacles, Martinez is pursuing his dreams thanks to the help of his college counselor and a new platform called Concourse that showcases the talents and academic achievements of students to attract admission offers and scholarships from best-fit universities.
Due to a sociopolitical crisis three years ago, Martinez moved to Costa Rica to live with his sister, while his parents stayed in Nicaragua. He had to catch up at school and complete 1.5 year’s worth of coursework in one year because some of his credits did not transfer. Luckily, he found a home at the Lighthouse International School in Guachipelin, San Jose. In his first semester, Martinez worked hard to adjust to a new culture and school system.
“Even though Costa Rica and Nicaragua are close to each other, the culture is very different. Costa Rica is more modern, while Nicaragua is more conservative and traditional,” said Martinez. “For example, back home relationships between a student and teacher are very formal and hierarchical, while at Lighthouse, the relationships are less formal and more like a family. ”
Marijke Armstrong, IB Literature & Research writing teacher and college counselor at Lighthouse, met Martinez at the start of his senior year, and immediately recognized his positive energy, resilience and determination.
“Rommel was forced to drop some IB courses and pick-up others and did a phenomenal job while living apart from his family for the year and trying to get by on his own,” said Armstrong. “He quickly won the hearts of everyone in our community and changed the school for the better. He is upbeat, honest and willing to work. He dedicated countless hours to catching up in his new courses and inspired his peers.”
By the second semester, Martinez was acclimated and ready to start applying to college. With the help of his college counselor Armstrong, he applied to seven universities, all requiring separate applications and fees of nearly $100 a piece. He spent months filling out forms, writing essays, and getting letters of recommendation.
Ever since he was a kid, he dreamt of studying abroad in Canada. Upon graduation, he was accepted to several wonderful Canadian universities. However, when he went home to Nicaragua to renew his passport that summer, he ran into a lot of red tape. He was burdened with several obstacles, unnecessary delays, and requests for more paperwork. His dreams of studying in Canada suddenly seemed out of reach.
However, in August 2020, Armstrong heard about Concourse, which helps match students with universities, and suggested it to Martinez. He entered with skepticism, given all the bureaucracy he encountered in his first attempts at applying for college abroad and all the time he invested. Armstrong convinced him it was worth a try, especially since no application was required. Instead, just a profile that was completed in less than an hour. Within 24 hours of submitting his online profile, he began to receive offers of admissions. He got six offers, five from US schools and one from Canada, a small liberal arts university in Quebec.
“Hope came into my eyes as I saw these offers come in! I had never even heard of Bishop’s University in Quebec — and I didn’t consider it because I don’t speak French,” said Martinez. “But they wanted me, and they fit my criteria. I took a call from the admissions officer and absolutely fell in love!”
Concourse matched Martinez to Bishop’s University based on his preferences: the type of school he wanted to attend, the size, area of study, and more. He was thrilled that Bishop’s was customized for him, and he’s now learning French.
“I got exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t even know it existed! Concourse was awesome, especially the messaging feature that allowed me to communicate directly with universities and get to know them better,” said Martinez. “It is very stressful to wait for an email from a university and really fantastic to have constant communication throughout the process.”
Armstrong played a big role in helping Martinez fulfill his dreams. She gave him a glowing recommendation to ensure that the admissions officers understood his whole story and potential: “He is a student worth pursuing. His grades reflect his journey, not his ability. He has walked a very difficult path, one that was unfair to a child his age, but he has taken every step with his head held high and still only speaks kindly and respectfully of his home country. If I can give you one recommendation, it is to get this kid in your institution before someone else does. The mere 11 months we had him changed our ENTIRE school community. He is an inspiration with a heartbreaking tale.”
Armstrong and Martinez started the university hunt with optimism and vigor, but after facing one obstacle after another, that energy was depleted. Concourse provided them with fresh options.
“As a college counselor, we never feel like our job is done until we know our students are happily placed where they will continue the next phase of their lives,” said Armstrong. “For me, Concourse helped Rommel achieve that goal. The college hunt is a daunting one, and in the ever-changing world in which we live, it is near impossible to know of all the options out there. Once Rommel got accepted to Bishop’s, I knew he had found the next step in his journey.”
Now Martinez is completing his first semester at Bishop’s University, where he started out studying computer science. Along the way, he realized that his interests lie in the business world, so he has combined these disciplines and switched to a business technology and analytics program.
While he’s been studying remotely due to the pandemic, he still feels like he’s traveled the world. He’s learning to speak French, meeting international students, and has forged new friendships with students from Iran, Turkey, South Africa, France, and Asia. He loves the cultural exchange with people around the world and has a deep respect for other cultures.
“I am a migrant person, who has moved to another country that welcomed me warmly. And now I’m studying at a Canadian university, where I hope to go in person next semester and meet all my new friends,” said Martinez.
His advice to others pursuing their dreams is: “Do your best, and be your best everyday. Be a better version of yourself everyday. If you can dream it, you can make it happen.”