Eating fried pickles, having cookouts and using slang terms like “y’all” and “ain’t” has become a day-to-day thing for Mejia. The kindness of people and the love of her family in the South has made leaving El Salvador something she does not regret.
A former television journalist, Mejia moved from El Salvador to East Tennessee in 2009. Here, she continued her education in mass communication at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. What she does now is the opposite of what she grew up wanting to do, but so is living in the United States. Now, she has found a degree she loves, and calls Tennessee home.
“East Tennessee is beautiful; I love it,” said Mejia. “After just living here for three years I consider myself a Southern girl already.”
In April 2006, Mejia began an internship at the Salvadorean TV Corp. (Telecorporación Salvadoreña), one of the largest television corporations in El Salvador. She would be learning the ropes of journalism, working on her interviewing techniques and preparing for a job after she graduated.
When she began her internship Mejia did not know what she would be doing: interviewing high public officials, reporting the news or just talking to citizens over a live broadcast. For Mejia it was all about the practice and the experience she would earn. After one of the reporters had gotten sick, the station asked Mejia if she could take her place.
“Yes, I can do it,” Mejia told the station. “But they said that they weren’t going to pay me, so I said ‘I don’t care. I just want the practice,’” she said.
Later, another opportunity presented itself when one of the reporters took a leave of absence because she was pregnant. After showing that she could do the job as a reporter, Mejia was hired as an official television reporter in July 2006, just three months after starting as an intern.
Mejia was in her fourth year of college and was still attending classes while working at the station. In El Salvador students take six years to earn an undergraduate degree. Mejia said that is longer than the four years for college students in the United States, but she didn’t mind because it was more time to learn the career.
A journalist in El Salvador has a greater chance of meeting someone famous, or a public official, than he or she would in the U.S., Mejia said. Journalists here compete more, especially if they live in a larger city like Washington D.C. or New York, she said.
“It is just different here, as a journalist. In El Salvador, since my country is smaller, we had more opportunities as journalists than you would here in the United States,” said Mejia.
Then she got married, and came to live with her husband and his family in East Tennessee. Leaving her family was hard, but she knew she would be with family who would make her feel right at home.
Rob, Mejia’s husband (with her, at left, in Costa Rica), was born in El Salvador but came to the States with his family. Their families had known each other and had remained close even though Mejia and her husband grew up apart. Mejia said that she was aware of American culture even before dating Rob, so when they moved to East Tennessee she wasn’t scared.
“We had known each other our whole lives. He only lived in El Salvador for four years. Then, when we got married, I was excited to come here to live,” said Mejia. “And after I lived here for a while I grew to really love this place.”
“His English is better than mine,” said Mejia. “But my Spanish is better than his, but we still understand each other, and in El Salvador I already knew about American things and culture.”
In El Salvador, Christmas was spent on the beach; now it is spent in the mountains. Television, movies and other holidays didn’t seem foreign to her, either, which made the transition easy. And having Rob and his family helped with the transition.
Now Mejia is finishing her master’s degree at ETSU. On top of attending classes, she works hand-in-hand with Department of Communication chair Dr. Amber Kinser (pictured below) as a graduate assistant. By helping Kinser with research, grading and looking at different forms of literature for her classes, Mejia has been able to improve her research skills and work on her English.
“Dr. Kinser has taught me so much,” said Mejia. “I feel like my research skills have gotten a lot better. A 10-page paper is nothing now.”
Finally, after three years of living in the United States Mejia, will become a U.S citizen. She said that she always felt comfortable here in the South and has always been welcomed by everyone she has met. To Mejia, East Tennessee is now home and soon so will be the U.S., although she never felt out of place.
“I don’t want to live anywhere else,” said Mejia. “I like the North too, but I feel very at home in Tennessee.”