Brandywine freshman's personal journey captured in the journal Klio

Isabela Carlos Alberto as a baby with her parents.

The image on the left shows Isabela Carlos Alberto as a child with her mother in Mongolia. On the right, Carlos Alberto is pictured with her mother and father in Colombia. 

Credit: courtesy of Isabela Carlos Alberto

MEDIA, Pa. — Isabela Carlos Alberto has spent most of her life fielding questions about her national origin — and she never quite knew how to answer. The Penn State Brandywine freshman, a Colombian-Mongolian who spent almost every school year in a different country because of her father’s job, has called many places home.

Her most recent attempt to answer that question, however, caught the eye of editors at Klio, a journal at Penn State that does not typically publish first-year student entries.

Klio is the creative arts sister journal of Kalliope, Penn State’s undergraduate literary journal. Entries are carefully vetted and chosen to showcase the works of Penn State artists and writers. Carlos Alberto originally wrote her photo essay, “Home from 195 Countries,” as a project for an English class taught by Coordinator of Multilingual Student Programs Deb Ousey. After reading the essay, Ousey encouraged Carlos Alberto to submit it to Klio. 

“Isabela is the only non-University Park student to be published in this year’s edition of Klio, and she is also one of only a few first-year students whose submission was accepted,” Ousey said. “I can only imagine what we’ll see from her in the future.”

Carlos Alberto’s parents met in Mongolia. Her father, a Colombian national, was working on an engineering project at a power plant. After marrying, they passed along the cultures and traditions of both of their countries to Carlos Alberto and her siblings.

“I grew up celebrating holidays and traditions from both my Mongolian family and my Colombian family,” said Carlos Alberto.

“At the Brandywine campus, there are so many other people who come from other countries, or whose parents are from different countries, that I feel like I blend in here."

—Isabela Carlos Alberto, first-year Penn State student

However, her unique heritage made her stand out in many of the countries where she lived — especially Mongolia, where she completed high school.

“It’s not really common to see foreigners in Mongolia, or anyone who doesn’t look particularly Mongolian,” she said. “People would ask me questions in English, assuming I was American, and would be surprised when I responded in Mongolian.”

When she first came to Penn State to study finance, Carlos Alberto braced herself for more of the same questions — but to her surprise, she found a completely different environment.

“At the Brandywine campus, there are so many other people who come from other countries, or whose parents are from different countries, that I feel like I blend in here,” she said. “And we are all here because we want to learn and grow.”

For Carlos Alberto, growth includes working towards her own future goal of owning an interior design company. She also plans to continue looking for opportunities to stretch herself, just like she did when she submitted her essay to Klio.

“I hope to reach my maximum potential,” she said. “The things I am good at, I want to be best at, and I think Penn State will help me accomplish that goal.”

Not all of the questions of origin, home and culture have disappeared from her life. In fact, when Carlos Alberto chose the topic of her “Home from 195 Countries” essay, it was in many ways an attempt to answer the origin question for herself.

“Before writing this, I didn’t really know how to put it into words,” she said. “I’m not from a certain country. It was about my adventure of finding my home and where I belong.” 

However, on the other side of her now published essay, she says that she has found her home after all: “Earth.”