AAPI Month Spotlight: Denise Barraca

Denise Barraca is a Filipino who grew up in Hong Kong and has immigrated to the United States to study. During Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we wanted to share her story with you and celebrate her journey.

After living in the Philippines, Denise and her family immigrated to Hong Kong. Although she says it was a wonderful place with a variety of cultures, it took some time to adjust to the new culture. Additionally, when she moved back to the Philippines, she had to adjust once again to a culture she had left for several years.

Denise (far left) with her parents and sister.

She had taken on the culture of Hong Kong in her international school there and had to conform to the conservative style of the culture in the Philippines, where a school uniform was mandatory with high heels and no hair color or nail polish. She admits this felt foreign, even though she had returned to the country where she was born.

Denise is now making the United States her home, as she studies to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Kettering College. She says, “Transitioning to the U.S. for college can be challenging for international students from the Philippines and Hong Kong, due to cultural differences, adapting to a new educational system, language barriers, financial strain, complex legal procedures, and difficulties in social integration.”

She notes these experiences are true for any international student, but she has found ways to overcome these barriers and grow from them. She says one way she stays rooted in her heritage is by making Filipino food in the dorm and speaking the language to those around her just to feel close to home.

Denise (left) with her sister visiting the Great Wall of China.

The culture in Hong Kong is so diverse that she feels at home when she’s surrounded by diversity. She adds that she can relate to international students. She says, “I like to be friends with people who can relate to the hardships of being away from home because we understand what each of us is feeling. For example, during American holidays, we spend time together because we have no family to spend it with.”

From being an international student, Denise has learned how to be strong and independent. She says, “It’s hard to move across the world alone…I’ve learned people live differently and that I have to adapt. Life is not always going to be easy, and it can be a roller coaster full of emotions.”

She appreciates her diverse background and experiences and credits them for helping her “keep an open mind and be accepting of diverse lifestyles and beliefs.” She says perhaps the most profound lesson she has learned from being an Asian American is “Home is not just a place; it’s a feeling of belonging, acceptance, and comfort that can be found through embracing diversity, forming connections, and appreciating the richness of various cultures.”


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