A New Hope

Rebecca Wilbur has been headed toward Pacific's College of Education for years.

First-year optometry student Rebecca Wilbur and freshman Celine Yip are among the countless Pacific students who come for more than an education they come for hope for a different future, for themselves, their families and their communities.

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“I managed to graduate. It’s probably one of the harder things I’ve done.”

After graduation, she spent time working in Alaska, but she was never satisfied.

“It wasn’t my dream, it wasn’t my goal in life to do what I was doing,” she said. “No matter how nice it would have been (to be done with school), something inside kept saying to keep chipping away. There was definitely a hunger inside of me to do something great, to do something better.”

When she earned an interview for admission to Pacific’s College of Optometry, she was ecstatic — and when she started classes this fall, she knew she was back on the track she had dreamed.

“Being around people with the same goal, the same dreams in life, it makes you want to wake up every day and go and learn the material and go to the lecture,” she said. “The best part of school is when one person succeeds, everybody is cheering them on. It’s so inspiring, even though it can be mentally draining and emotionally draining.

“Somehow, you get through it. It’s so satisfying, knowing this is going to help me contribute back to my community, my region.”

And that, always, is where Rebecca’s focus lies. She hopes, after completing her degree, to return to Alaska with her husband and son. 

For people in villages throughout Alaska, healthcare comes at a high premium. Doctors rarely speak the Native languages or come from within the Native cultures, nor do they work in the villages themselves.

The nearest medical center to Quinhaguk, for example, is in Bethel, meaning a simple doctor visit can costs hundreds of dollars for a flight, not to mention food and lodging, for people in a limited-cash economy.

“They are sacrificing months of income to see you. I understand that, and growing up with that, it makes me feel obligated to give the best healthcare out there.

“I’m fluent in Yu’pik Eskimo, so that’s a healthcare disparity I can overcome. I understand the culture, the body language. It’s my culture, compared to someone coming in,” she said. 

“I have skills that many doctors wouldn’t have in terms of language and coming from that culture, and understanding barriers and disparities is key to being a good provider.”

Rebecca dreams of giving her son some of the same upbringing and family ties that blessed her childhood. But, she also knows that this time away has its purpose.

“I think I’ve sacrificed a lot in my life to be here. But I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “I’ve lost these years (at home), but it’s so worth it to me, because I didn’t leave just to leave. I left to get an education, and it’s going to be worth it when I’m done.”