Mrs. Whatcom Community College

by Faith Ulate

Photo by Faith Ulate
Photo by Faith Ulate

“Hi! My name is Faith Ulate from Bellingham, Washington, and I’m Mrs. Whatcom County!” (Head high, big smile, tummy tucked, lots of confidence, nice wave…)

This is supposed to be me four months from now in the 2014 Mrs. Washington America Pageant. Pretty ambitious for a mom who is usually folding laundry, washing dishes, driving kids around in sweatpants and wearing a ponytail.

This is the year for completing my New Year’s resolutions. Every year I make them, and every year I abandon them. Well, not this year. This year I made two and I am set on keeping them. The first resolution was to eat healthier and lose weight.

Okay, maybe it’s the same one I make every year, but this year there’s a twist. What could be more motivating to exercise and work out than the thought of hundreds of people staring at your cellulite while you’re prancing around in a swimsuit on stage in a pageant? And, as much as I love being a mom and wife, I am ready for something more significant than cleaning the house and watching daytime television.

My second New Year’s resolution was to go back to school and get my associate degree, which has seemed to be an endless challenge. Who would have ever guessed that it would take me 20 years to get a simple transfer degree?

Time just flew by, I guess. Life took me on a different path than I had originally planned.

I grew up in Bellingham and had a happy childhood. I was really involved high school, both socially and academically.

It wasn’t until my senior year that I decided to do Running Start. I liked the thought of getting college out of the way while going to high school.

After graduating high school, I decided to explore the world. I ventured off to a non-credited college in England where I lived in a castle for six months with students from all over the world. I had the opportunity to travel around Europe and then backpack through Israel. It was an amazing experience, but I knew I needed to come back home and finish my education.

I decided to take a few more classes at Whatcom. I was living on my own and struggling to pay for an apartment while working a couple of different jobs. I finished the quarter and just felt confused with the direction I was going. I knew I wanted to travel again and since I had taken some Spanish, I thought a Latin country would be fun and interesting.

So, one day I spontaneously dropped out of my physics class, quit my job, sold my car and bought a ticket to Costa Rica. I decided to go to a language school for three months to improve my Spanish. I was only 20 years old. Didn’t I have all the time in the world anyway?
Three weeks after arriving in Costa Rica, I fell in love with a cute Costa Rican guy. A year later we decided to get married and start a life together in Bellingham.

I was able to continue working towards my degree at Whatcom. Even when I was pregnant, I was able to take a few classes. It seemed slow, but I had to do this “poco a poco” (little by little).

I still remember the day my husband’s family called and asked us to go back to Costa Rica to help them on their bull ranch and orange plantation. We made the decision to move back and go on a crazy adventure together.

That adventure lasted 11 years. While I was there, I became fluent in Spanish.

I taught English as a second language, became an aerobics instructor, and eventually got into real estate. It was hard adjusting to a new culture, a new language, and a new life, but I did it.

As our son was nearing high school, I longed to come home and have him experience the American heritage I grew up with. We really liked that Bellingham was a family-oriented and relatively safe place to live. I eventually convinced my husband that we should move back.

I became a licensed real estate agent in Washington, but I still had that nagging feeling that I needed to finish school. I was so close to being done.

I met with an adviser at Whatcom and found out that I had four classes left to take and classes started the very next day. I decided to go for it.

It felt both humbling and empowering to be back. Humbling in the fact that I was almost twice the age as the students sitting next to me, but also empowering to know that I was moving forward with a goal that I had tucked away for many years.

Three weeks before finishing spring quarter, I had an emergency appendectomy. I went to the hospital for the surgery and then stayed in bed for almost a month. I had to take an “incomplete” in my two journalism classes and I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I want to continue with school or the pageant anymore. It’s too much right now.” However, I put that voice of doubt out of my mind and decided to keep plugging along.

I took a nutrition class summer quarter and I have one class left this fall. I’m almost there. I can do it. And, although this isn’t a big accomplishment for most, it is going to be a celebration for me to actually finish this long journey that I’ve been on.

So, come January, I’m envisioning myself walking on that stage, holding my head high, knowing I had a goal, I reached it, I’m better because of it, and for that I can be proud. And, God willing, I won’t just be holding one, but two titles in my hand.

2 thoughts on “Mrs. Whatcom Community College

  1. Bravo! What a great story and interesting life you are leading. Thanks for writing about it. By the way, I think becoming fluent in Spanish definitely counts as education and is a huge asset!

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