Volume IX, Issue 6 | December 12, 2023

Widening Focus

Budding actress/writer/filmmaker Andrea Giraldo journeyed from Colombia to Santa Monica College to chart her future — and find herself.

SMC in Focus

Passionately picking up a camera to capture life around her, Andrea Giraldo first knew she wanted a career in movies when she was nine. But cinematic opportunities were limited in her homeland of Colombia, so she journeyed to Los Angeles at age 17 to learn about the entertainment industry firsthand. She resolved to stay for three months — the same number of suitcases she brought.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” Andrea says — with the second best being coming to Santa Monica College the following year.

Still, as those initial three months in Los Angeles became six, it may not always have seemed so. She took acting classes to hone her on-camera talents and a marketing course to improve her promotional skills. But although she found the performance training worthwhile, the marketing course turned out to be fraudulent.

“They scammed me of all the savings I had,” Andrea recalls. The experience left her so depressed that, she admits, “I didn’t even want to get out of bed.”

Then she asked herself, “If I’m going to stay in my bed, why did I come here?” Answering that led to what Andrea calls “a spiritual journey of understanding myself,” as she turned to another of her loves — writing. Every morning she stationed herself at a coffee shop near her dream school, UCLA, to set down her thoughts and feelings. Through that cathartic process, she says, “I remembered how it felt to be me.”

After returning to her home in Colombia, she began researching community colleges where she could be herself, pursue every aspect of her creativity and receive the quality education needed to eventually transfer. That institution turned out to be SMC.

“Santa Monica College gives me the space to be the person that I wanted to be for so long,” she says.

Creative Journey

Even though Andrea was an honors student at a highly regarded French high school, Lycée Français de Pereira in Colombia, she felt academically overshadowed by her older sister. But while her sister shone in the sciences, performing a play in Spanish class revealed that Andrea’s talents lay in the arts. “For the first time, it felt like I was able to do something right,” she says.

She became driven to excel not only in acting but also behind the camera. “I started learning everything I could about making films,” Andrea says. Meanwhile, she developed her writing talents as the school’s press representative. She also became head of the school photography club.

While researching colleges that would ease the path to UCLA, Andrea learned that SMC ranked first in transfers to the University of California (UC) system. “SMC also has so many international students that it was not a matter of if I was going, but when,” she says.

Yet while SMC has an award-winning film production program, Andrea realized that preferred majoring in communications studies while embracing the college’s broader opportunities. One of her favorite classes was English 1, not just because it strengthened her language skills but also because of the supportive mentorship of Professor Erica Onugha. “The course impacted me so much, because she was the was the most respectful, caring and understanding professor I’ve ever met,” Andrea says.

Her other favorite class was Media 21, taught by Emmy nominee Roxanne Messina Captor. The course enabled Andrea to collaborate with classmates on a short documentary, “Love Is…,” that she directed, co-wrote and edited. The results so impressed Roxanne that she invited Andrea to work on the next semester’s film.

Full Calendar(s)

Andrea only declined the offer because her calendar at SMC is so full that she keeps three of them. Besides her studies, she works three campus jobs: peer mentor at the International Education Center, peer navigator for first-year students and staffer at the Bodega, SMC’s free pantry for students facing food insecurity.

She also serves as president of the popular International Student Forum, helping fellow students from other countries bond as they adjust to academic and social life here. “It can be hard to find a way to connect international students with local students,” she says. “We offer fun events and a safe space for everyone.” This past October, for instance, nearly 60 members enjoyed Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights.

Andrea also keeps her busy schedule on track through an aggregation of almost 100 Google and Excel sheets. “The only way I can manage is by being organized,” she says.

After graduating from SMC, Andrea’s international status will allow her to complete up to a year of optional practical training in her chosen field before applying to UCLA. She plans to spend that year working in professional film production.

But Andrea says she will always appreciate the opportunities and experiences provided by SMC. “I am surrounded here by people with good, positive energy,” she says.

* * *