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UAlbany's Andrea Robayo Graduates with a Passion for Helping Refugees

Andrea Robayo, who graduates at UAlbany's winter commencement on Dec. 8, is moving to San Diego and pursuing a career in public relations. Her passion for helping refugees settle in the U.S. remains a priority. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 6, 2013) – During her years at UAlbany, communication major Andrea Robayo developed a passion for helping refugees. Robayo herself was 10 when she and her mother left Colombia, so she understands the challenges of starting over in a new country. “My mother felt that it was better for us to leave Colombia for the U.S. instead of staying in a corrupt and unsafe country,” said Robayo.

Young Andrea learned English as fast as she could. “Assimilating to a new country is very challenging: the language, the food, the subcultures. It is probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to go through,” she said.

One day in Emilie Gould’s cultural communication class, a Kenyan refugee served as a guest speaker. Robayo recalled that she and her mom had moved to the U.S. by choice. How much harder is the transition when one is forced to leave one’s own country, she wondered?

This moved her to volunteer at the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in Albany, where she met Lindsay, another refugee from Kenya.

“Lindsay was forced to leave her three-year-old child in Kenya because the U.S.A. only accepts one refugee at a time,” said Robayo. “She is an amazing woman who demonstrates courage and hope.”

The U.S. government or other sponsoring nation pays for a refugee’s airline ticket.  Because refugees are expected to find a job within six months and pay back the cost of the ticket, Lindsay could not immediately claim her child. “It is the hard reality of what refugees are faced with everyday,” said Robayo.

UAlbany students can help refugees by volunteering their time, or donating clothes, shoes, furniture. “Anything helps, even an hour of your time. As a volunteer you get to decide if you want to tutor a family or work in the office instead. The USCRI will work with you and your schedule,” she added.

As UAlbany’s Winter Commencement approached, Robayo looked back in appreciation for the excellent education she received at UAlbany. She recalls how after she was born, her own mother returned to college to earn a degree in accounting.

“She would take me to her classes when I was a little girl,” said Robayo. “I saw her put so much work into it. Her parents were very poor and could not afford to send her to college. So she had me, she worked full time, and she went to school all at the same time.”

The best part of graduation for Robayo will be knowing that her mother has flown in from Houston, Texas to watch her cross the stage. Robayo has a bright future ahead; she has plans to move to San Diego and establish a career in public relations. She recently became engaged and her fiancé is serving in the military.

Read about UAlbany's Winter Commencement and President Robert Jones' message to the graduates here.

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