Story by Cameron Bocanegra | Photos by Michaela Schirra
When you walk into Baylor freshman Bryan Lizano’s dorm room, the first thing you will notice is an American flag hanging proudly above his bed with a Costa Rican flag pinned next to it. Lizano’s desk is bare aside from a lamp and a laptop provided by the Baylor Engineering department. A poster leaning against his window is covered in photographs. Lizano moved to the United States from a small Costa Rican town on the outskirts of a rainforest—Santa Elena.
“Coming to the United States and Baylor was a new adventure for me,” Lizano said. “It was my first time here. My first time on a plane. There were a lot of firsts.”
Lizano’s journey to Waco was atypical. As a child growing up in Santa Elena, Lizano said he was quiet, curious and observant, especially when Baylor School of Education mission trip students began visiting for one week every spring. Apart from school activities, Lizano spent time with the Baylor students ziplining and taking trips into the city. He listened to them share their stories about Baylor, a distant place they loved and called home.
“Since I was a young kid, I liked to study,” Lizano said. “I had a desire for learning, and then when I saw that people were coming from a different culture, a different country, I was very interested in that. I wanted to know more.”
Dr. Trena Wilkerson and Dr. Randy Wood professors in the Baylor School of Education, and Dr. Debra Burleson professor in the Hankamer School of Business, were the mission trip chaperones when they first met Lizano. Each of the educators’ interests were peaked by the Lizano, who they say stood out as curious and bright.
When hearing about the work Baylor students were doing in Costa Rica, former Baylor president Ken Starr promised free tuition to the first student from Lisano’s high school to graduate and be accepted to Baylor. As Lizano neared graduation, he was ranked one of the top 25 students in the country. Lizano said he was willing to work hard for the Baylor education that was promised to a decade before.
Three years of hard work passed. Lizano woke up at 4:30 every morning to spend five hours on a bus to get to work. Baylor was still all he dreamed of, he said.
“It really impressed us that he was so quiet but also asked so many questions. He was always thinking and considering things,” Burleson said. “The opportunity to attend Baylor was more to him than just getting out and going to the U.S.. Bryan was very serious about his higher education. Every time we came back, he was improving, and never hesitated about working towards the next step.”
One night, Lizano was reading alone in his room when he received an email from Baylor. He had been accepted.
Lizano said leaving home is not typical of the family-oriented Costa Rican culture. Three generations of a family commonly live in the same house. Nonetheless, he left home for Waco this August. He said he was not afraid to begin his new life at Baylor.
“I was not scared about something I wanted,” Lizano said.
Since arriving this fall, Lizano has become very involved at Baylor. Lizano says he misses his parents often. However, he is always surrounded by new friends. He began working as an assistant in the education department, joined the Korean Student Association, and has been accepted into Baylor’s Global Initiative. He hopes to spend a semester abroad in South Korea. Lizano also plans to travel with Baylor Missions to Santa Elena in the spring, the same trip that changed the course of his life years before.
Lizano’s mentors and professors expressed confidence that he will thrive at Baylor.
“He knows how to work hard,” Wood said. “He can get it done. He knows what he’s doing, and we have all the faith that he will be just fine no matter what’s next.”