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Doctor encourages bilingual students to work hard, excel

The final guest speaker for Mrs. Castro's English learners class at Sunnyside's Sierra Vista Middle School gave the students something to think about, in two languages.

Dr. Ana Sofia Zelaya, of Swofford & Halma Clinic in Sunnyside, is originally from Barcelona and grew up in Peru. Her father was from a poor family in Peru.

"He worked hard and saved his money," Zelaya said. "And went to Spain to study medicine."

That's where he met Zelaya's mother. But her father wanted to return to Peru to give back to the community he'd come from. As a result, she was raised in Peru.

Eventually, Zelaya followed in her father's footsteps, becoming a physician after a lot of hard work.

"My father inspired me," she said. "Regardless of the money, your situation, your resources... you can make it happen. If you have a goal, you can make it happen."

She wanted to come to the United States, a place with more opportunities. But she didn't speak a word of English. So she learned.

"It took a long time," Zelaya admitted to the class. "It's not easy having an accent. It wasn't easy to become a doctor again, in English."

She earned a degree from the University of Texas, Houston, and was able to practice medicine again. She said it was worth the effort.

"I want to be the best, no matter what I do," she said.

The students of Mrs. Castro's class asked plenty of questions, both in English and Spanish, and Zelaya answered in both languages. One student wanted to know what she did when she wasn't working.

She said she liked to spend time with her family. She has two young sons she's raising with her husband. She also said she likes to keep active by skating, riding bicycles and, a new skill, skiing.

"I have to be very careful to balance work and family," she said. "It's not good to get too intense on one. That's my fight, to keep balance."

Another student asked if being bilingual has been helpful. She replied that it had.

"It's another skill," she said. "It's good to have many skills."

She described working on call and being woken up in the night.

"I always remind myself that there is someone on the other end who needs my help," she said. "That makes it possible to get out of bed."

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