Fernando Arteaga was born and raised in Ecuador where he had a budding career as a lawyer. Intrigued by the common law legal tradition in North America, he felt an urge learn more about it. Ecuador operates under a civil law tradition – meaning that, unlike Canada’s common law tradition which relies primarily on precedents, they have comprehensive, continuously updated legal codes that specify which issues can be brought before a court, the procedure for dealing with each issue and the appropriate punishment.
Knowing he would need to improve his English skills to meet the academic standards of an English-speaking country, Fernando began to explore his educational options. Having heard great things about Canadian colleges and universities, he paid a visit to the Canadian consulate in search of additional information. In the end, he applied to two Canadian colleges – and College of the Rockies quickly responded back.
“It was impressive how the College provided me with all the information I needed- in my own language,” he says. “By the time I was contacted by the other college, I had already made up my mind to attend College of the Rockies.”
Initially, Fernando’s plan was to complete his English Language program at the College, register for a Master’s degree program and then return home to Ecuador. His time at the College changed that.
“My decision to attend College of the Rockies was the beginning of an exciting journey. It changed everything,” he says. “At the College, because my instructors were so approachable, I spent many hours talking to them. At first we would talk about courses and classes but eventually some of my instructors became my mentors and friends.”
His instructors were not the only ones to readily befriend Fernando. Though many of his classmates at the College had grown up in the area and were familiar with each other, they also were happy to include Fernando and others. “Contrary to what most people might think, I had no problem integrating into those groups,” Fernando explains. “People assume that I had a hard time making friends but I immediately correct them and tell them what my experience was really like. I am still friends with my very first Canadian friend and we hang out as much as we can.”
Though he easily made friends, Fernando did have to adjust to a very different lifestyle than he was accustomed to. Coming from a large city, he needed to adapt to the more rural and slow-paced lifestyle of the East Kootenay region of British Columbia. “Before the College, I loved buildings, malls and movies,” he notes. “Now you have no idea how much I miss being so close to the Rocky Mountains or riding my bike to Jim Smith Lake and jumping into it.”
After completing his English Language program, Fernando stayed at the College to complete a diploma in Criminal Justice. Wanting to give back to the College that gave him so much, he ran for and won the position of President of the Students’ Association as well as a seat on the College’s Board of Governors.
“Before the College I did not care about being involved,” he admits. “After my experience with the Students’ Association and Board of Governors, I always try to be involved in different activities as much as I can.”
After completing his diploma, Fernando worked in a variety of jobs, unable to say no to the many opportunities to grow personally and professionally available to him in Canada. Eventually, however, he was drawn back to the legal profession.
“I found it ironic at times that I decided to go back to school to study law again,” he says. He completed the Masters of Laws program at the University of Calgary and applied for his reaccreditation to work as a lawyer in Canada.
Due to his past experience and education, he was given the option to challenge 10 courses. He passed all within a six month period of time and is now articling at Heming & Associates in Strathmore, Alberta. His goal is to become a litigation lawyer focussing on civil cases.
Fernando has a lot of support through his journey. He met Jasmin at College of the Rockies when he was recruiting volunteers for a Students’ Association project. They have now been married for seven years and hope to have children in the near future.
“I have changed a lot as a person since coming to College of the Rockies,” he concludes. “I have a different understanding now of tolerance, diversity, gender roles and religion. I have different priorities and goals. I am so grateful to this great country of awesome people for the things I have experienced.”
Because of his love of the country, in March 2014, Fernando became a Canadian citizen. “One of my greatest achievements was to become a Canadian citizen,” he says. “I am very grateful for growing up in Ecuador, but to me, becoming a Canadian citizen means that everybody knows that you are fully engaged in Canada and you are ready to serve this country in any role to keep it strong. I promised myself that I was going to work as hard as I could and contribute as much as I can to this wonderful country. I love Canada.”