Volume VIII, Issue 6 | December 12, 2022

Creative Cognition

Abril Olivares Nolasco applies her imaginative empathy to writing and serving as president of Santa Monica College’s International Student Forum.

“Write what you know” may be timeworn advice, but it’s also why, even at a young age, Abril Olivares Nolasco has a rich and deepening reservoir of stories to share. Abril realized she wanted to be a writer while still a little girl in her home country of Mexico. By age 8, she had already won her first writing contest. Later, while working on her high school magazine, two teachers urged her to keep pursuing her creative passion.

“They said I had talent and knew how to express and analyze things,” Abril recalls. In the former skill, she took after her mother, a journalist. The latter ability perhaps came from her father, an engineer. And she also had a family history to draw from. Her grandparents endured harsh poverty, Abril explains, and one of her grandmothers was forced to work at age 5.

“Trauma can pass on through generations,” she says. “But my mom always told me that her parents didn’t go through all that suffering not to have their stories shared with the world. I think my purpose in life is going to be to tell that story.”

In addition, Abril draws upon her own experiences. “I tell people that I sometimes make mistakes just to have experiences to write about,” she adds with a smile.

Those mistakes definitely do not include journeying to Los Angeles to attend Santa Monica College, she says.

“A counselor back in Mexico told us that community college offers a good option for international students because it’s easier to get into universities as a transfer rather than as a first-year,” Abril recalls. She chose SMC for its status as a top school for transferring to leading four-year institutions.

She also appreciates the variety of courses available at SMC. “Part of what I love about America is that you can be and do whatever you want,” Abril says. She currently majors in communication with a focus on film and media while also studying cognitive science.

“I want to pursue cognitive science because I believe if you know how the brain and your feelings work, your narratives will be better,” Abril explains.

Amid her busy academic schedule, Abril serves as president of SMC’s International Student Forum (ISF), through which scholars of all nations get to know each other. “SMC offers such a friendly community, which is really important when you’re living by yourself for the first time, adjusting to a different culture and trying to strive in academics,” she says.

As president, Abril has overseen activities that range from a day at the beach to members sharing snacks from their homelands to visiting Universal Studios. Beyond multicultural bonding, “the ISF is about having fun and meeting new people,” Abril says. “That’s why I was so eager to be president.”

Abril also works at the front desk of the International Education Center—the organization that helped acclimate her to SMC originally. After a virtual conference with Denise Kinsella, associate dean of International Education (“I had many questions,” Abril recalls), she began taking courses online from her family’s home in Mexico City. Then she physically arrived at SMC in February 2022.

“It was the first time I left home in my life,” Abril says. “This is the longest time I’ve been away from my parents, family and friends and Mexico City.” Calling her time at SMC “transformational,” Abril says, “I’ve been challenged in all areas of my life and have never felt so comfortable with being myself as I do now.”

As she completes her associate’s degrees, she plans to transfer to a university that, like SMC, promotes a sense of closely knit community. “An environment like that would be nice,” she says, thinking that she might travel east to study at Amherst, Williams or Smith College.

However, being used to urban areas, Abril admits that she may “need to find the charm of” those institution’s locations, which are pretty rural compared to Mexico City and Los Angeles.

Wherever she continues her education, Abril will keep writing and is also considering being an editor. In either capacity, she aims to contribute to such publications as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. She is a fan of The New York Times column “Modern Love,” which, like her own stories, finds universal meaning in intimate accounts.

“Finding solace in knowing another person has gone through the same experience as yours is what makes writing so nice,” she says.

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