As an asylum seeker from Colombia, Nicolas Herrera saw firsthand what survival looked like, “Some people wanted my parents to give them confidential information about very important people in the country since they used to work for banks. When my parents refused, they threatened to kill my siblings and me. I remember one day, my mom picked my brother and me from school in a hurry. She told me to pack my stuff as soon as possible and in the blink of an eye, we fled the country.”
At first, Nicolas struggled with acclimating to his new environment in the U.S. “I always felt like an outsider,” he said. With language barriers and a totally new culture, Nicolas had to learn to adapt, but felt motivated to excel after seeing his parents sacrifice so much.
Now, Nicolas is completing an internship in Virginia as a Project and Components Engineer for Aerojet Rocketdyne. The aspiring engineer also interned as a Research Assistant with NASA Ames.
But before becoming a student at San Jose State, Nicolas began learning new skills through golf. When he was a freshman in high school, Nicolas joined Youth on Course, and began working during the summer in the caddie program at La Rinconada Country Club and San Jose Country Club.
It was there that Nicolas began developing new skills such as hard work and dedication.
“I loved YOC because of the sense of camaraderie. Everyone was so nice to each other. The coaches also pushed me, and motivated me to be better. Not just to be a better golfer, but to be a better human in life. I feel like I also learned how to be a leader,” he said.
Nicolas never aspired to play golf professionally. He had fun playing, but what he saw was the value of playing golf and who it gave him access to.
“It was great caddying for members at country clubs. It allowed me to learn a lot from them in terms of how they became successful. To be able to walk with a person for four hours, and ask them questions, it really helped me pay attention to the things you’re supposed to do, and what I should focus on.”
In a sense, having access to play golf broadened Nicolas horizons. He began to see there were opportunities for him to succeed in life through the people he met through golf, and took that inspiration to apply himself in school.
“The people I worked for as a caddie served as mentors to me, and they gave me advice that was beneficial to my intellectual growth. But I wasn’t always a great student. When I went to college though, I found that inner motivation to push myself and do well.”
In fact, Nicolas has also turned playing golf into a family affair. His younger brother Andres joined First Tee and YOC when he was in high school, and his younger sister, Isabella, 14, now serves on the YOC Leadership Council and is a member of the DRIVE Club.
“My parents saw how YOC changed my brother and my life, and so they put my sister in the same program, too. Out of the three of us, my sister is the brightest and also loves to play golf the most. But I also think her seeing how it helped my brother and I develop has inspired her to stay more involved.”
Despite Nicolas not wanting to play golf professionally though, he knows that golf will always be in his life. He often invites friends out to play, and tries to enjoy the game when time allows.
“Whenever I do get to play, I like to go out there to relax, and just appreciate being out there. I find it relaxing, but I also still appreciate the life lessons it taught me,” he said.