Xabier Mendes, a graduate student at VIU, enthusiastically agreed when we asked to feature him on the cover of this issue of University Magazine. Through the process of photographing and interviewing him, we were constantly reminded of his positive attitude, infectious spirit, and kindness to others. Hailing from Spain, Xabier fills his life with adventure. His list of activities has no end: he climbs, surfs, runs, snowboards and skateboards, lifts weights, plays soccer, swims – you name it, he has done it. But most importantly, Xabier dreams big. His future goals include starting a family and investing in his own business and watching it grow globally. What challenges has Xabier Mendes overcome to get where he is today and what is he doing now to achieve his dreams? Continue reading to find out.
University Magazine: How did you find and choose Virginia International University (VIU)?
Xabier Mendes: I was working as an IT guy in a non-profit, and one of my coworkers was a student at VIU. When I finished my experience at the NGO (Relief International) in the US, I wanted a new challenge and decided to go back to school. After how well my friend spoke of VIU, it was easy to pick.
UM: How do you like your new life-chapter, being an international student in America?
XM: I like it a lot. It is a challenge to be away from my loved ones back home,
but I have met people that have become very important to me and who support me.
UM: Talk to us about your new friends, your experience at VIU, and your professors.
XM: They are very friendly. The fact that the classes are not very crowded helps to create a friendly environment. Teachers get engaged with me and support me a lot. They get to know me and want to see me go far, and I really appreciate that. I love meeting people from different cultures. I am learning a lot from them, and as I love traveling, I am finding myself many new destinations for the future.
UM: How is it living and studying in Fairfax, just short commute from Washington, DC, the US capital?
XM: I am more of a beach person, but I really like the opportunities that this area offers. If you are proactive, you can get wherever you want, since the connections you make here are endless.
UM: Were there any particular surprises, shocks, or cultural differences you noticed as far as differences between the American and Spanish lifestyles and expectations?
XM: Yes, a big one. In the part of Spain that I am from (the Basque Country), as well as in other areas, we are very social. You are always meeting your friends or family after school or work. We always eat together, and we are always doing activities together. Here, not so much. Life is very individualistic.
UM: Describe your daily life for us.
XM: It is not easy. I am always busy. I like to start my day with a good workout and then I take some alone time with the books to study. I may have to alter that routine some days, because if I don’t have class, I have work. This is almost every day. When I have time, I like spending it with my girlfriend and friends. I love to participate in student activities at the university as well. Having so many different cultures in one place makes me feel special. VIU’s diverse environment makes us so rich, and we may not realize it now, but we may be seated next to the next president of another country. Or a future CEO!
UM: What is your best advice to new students or those looking for an American university where they can study?
XM: I tell them to come. They won’t only get great knowledge, but also will mature in a country where if you are active in front of the opportunities, you can get anywhere. America has changed me a lot. I have grown so much throughout my time here. I did not think or imagine I was going to achieve the things that I have, but thanks to all the experiences that have made me mature, I have become a new person; and it has been a great change. I was just a young adult full of insecurities when I came. Now I can say I have become a man.
UM: We know that you received the Honor Student Recognition from VIU’s president. It clearly shows that you are one of the most active and respected students at VIU.
XM: Yes, I am very honored that I have been given such an award. It has been hard. Taking five classes and receiving perfect marks takes a lot of time and sacrifice. But I am here to do my best all the time. Hopefully I will continue to be rewarded with good grades.
UM: You are a member of VIU’s Toastmasters Club where your friends describe you as an “adventure guy.” Is it hard to manage all of these interests and adventures?
XM: I love Toastmasters! It has helped me so much with my communication skills. I am quite an adventurer. If I am not involved in one, I find myself a new adventure. This means being busy and having to manage my time more effectively. But so far I have been able to manage it. All the things I do are things that I like, so it keeps me feeling optimistic and happy. I would say to everyone, stay active. Life is meant to be fun. I have learned that there is no time to be home wasting time. I need to go out, explore, and have fun.
UM: If your life was a movie, what genre would it be?
XM: It’s hard to pick one. My life has action, adventure, a lot of crying, lots of laughs, scary moments… But if I had to pick one, I would pick adventure. I do not like routines or stability.
UM: If you don’t mind, can you tell us how came to have one arm? It’s very inspirational seeing you here as one of us, studying with students who come from all over the world.
XM: No worries, I love it when people ask. It’s better for people to ask than to avoid asking and instead make assumptions. I was born this way, so it made it easier, since I could get used to doing everything from a young age. In addition, my father, who has always fought for me, has motivated me to do everything. My friends have also always treated me as a normal one in the group, always inviting me to partake in all the activities they did (biking, hiking, surfing). If all my actions inspire others to push themselves further, all the better.
UM: What would your message be to the young adults who may relate to you?
XM: Being sad or depressed won’t lead you anywhere good. Yes, we have conditions that can make life harder, but that doesn’t mean things are impossible for us. In the end, if it’s worth it, it won’t be easy. Wake up and go for it. You will impress yourself and grow and be an inspiration to those around you. You don’t want to look back and regret all the years you wasted because your condition – whatever it is – grew stronger than your will. Don’t be a slave to that condition; instead, be dominant over it. It’s true, others weren’t as nice when I was a kid even though I had some great friends. But I started listening to the voices that knew me better and knew I would overcome whatever stepped in front of me. I am a believer and God has been my strength, and that helped me to wake up every time some situation brought me down. Nowadays, friends ask me to do things that I am like, “Dude, you notice I have one arm?” But they don’t care and make me participate anyway. And that motivates me even more.
UM: “Never give up,” in other words.
XM: Right. Opportunities won’t come to you, so doing nothing won’t take you anywhere. You need to wake up from stability and normality and look for the opportunities. You chose: are you satisfied with normal, or do you want to go for great? I don’t consider myself better or worse than anybody. My condition has made me mature and grow in different areas. Nowadays when I think of it, I am thankful, because I would have been a really different person from who I am now otherwise.
UM: Would you say you are living your American dream, the way you imagined it?
XM: I am living beyond my dream. I never imagined I would get where I am, even in my best dreams. This is thanks to my father and the people that surround me. My success is not mine; it would be selfish to take all the merit. Those people are as much part of my success as I am. This adventure has taken me beyond and I hope the next adventure keeps going past what I can imagine.
UM: We recently celebrated Father’s Day in the US. Do you want to say anything to your father?
XM: I can’t say enough to describe all he means to me and all he has done. He is a great father who has fought for his family, and still does, so that we all could have the best life. He is both a successful father and businessman, and hopefully one day I can get close to what he has achieved.
UM: He must be worried when you do things like biking, surfing, or other activities that sometimes people are afraid to do.
XM: He hasn’t shown too much worry when I tell him I’m going to do crazy things. He knows I am capable of doing things like other people, so he doesn’t worry much – at least not noticeably.
UM: You mentioned that life can be hard as a kid. Millions of children out there are treated badly because of their looks or physical appearances. Sometimes young people don’t have the knowledge or experiences they need to cope, and some don’t even have support from their governments. How was it growing up in Spain? Are they supportive in terms of government and social care?
XM: Unfortunately, every day can be hard. People judge you without knowing you. For me it wasn’t easy as a kid. The [Spanish] government helps a lot though. Personally, I don’t like to be called disabled. Things may be harder, but that doesn’t mean I am less able than others. In the future, I want to help those who are in need. And those whose dreams have been shut down from the beginning just because they were born in a difficult situation. If I can help those kids, it would be great. They are as capable as others, but they don’t get a chance to show it. I want to give them that opportunity. I want to tell them to take opportunities, travel, get to know the beautiful world we live in, and not to let disappointments bring them down. They are all unique, and each of them can bring a big change to this world.
UM: Tell us something about your beautiful country, Spain. What are some things unique to Spain that we cannot see or experience anywhere else in the world?
XM: Food! I miss the food a lot. And then the social life. We have a lot of “fiestas,” which are days of celebration. Then there are the bullfights, bull runs… We like celebrating everything, and the tiniest excuse will do for a reason to celebrate. There is a lot of Latino-American culture, as well as African and Middle Eastern culture.
UM: It is an honor for us to have you on our cover of University Magazine. Your story will inspire millions of young adults to change their lives and their futures and, most importantly, to be themselves. Thank you for that!
XM: The honor is mine! Thanks for letting me share my story!
University Magazine: Issue 4, Fall 2015