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Client Story


A Professional’s Journey to American Career Success

Light streams in through the large windows of Sandra Salinas’ new home, where the Peru native recounts her journey as an immigrant struggling to find success in Minnesota.

“My current life — this is what I wanted at the time, when I moved here. And now I have it,” said Sandra, who accepted a job last year as a Senior Stylist for Target Corporation. “It’s like a dream come true.”

She credits the classes and teachers at the International Institute of Minnesota for helping with her progress. Sandra arrived in Minnesota via Argentina, where she worked as a visual merchandiser for Puma. Though she planned to seek a similar job in the United States, the reality of living and working as an immigrant in Minnesota proved to be more difficult than she’d imagined.

If I didn’t have the Institute, I wouldn’t be where I am.

A woman from Peru with long wavy hairSandra tackled the language barrier by enrolling in English classes at the Institute, progressing within one year to College Readiness Academy — the Institute’s highest English level.

“It pushed me. I was challenged. And I loved that,” Sandra said, explaining that she felt like toddler when she first arrived, in terms of her English language level.

The academic work she completed during her two semesters of College Readiness helped prepare her for an online certificate program through New York’s Pratt Institute, one of the world’s top 10 art and design colleges.

“If I hadn’t had College Readiness, I don’t think I would’ve been able to understand” the language and teaching at Pratt, Sandra said. “All of these things were part of the path to where I am. Being here in Minnesota, if I didn’t have this resource, it would be tough.”

Throughout the pandemic, Sandra worked in a retail store and enrolled in the Institute’s Professional Leadership Development class. 

Given her corporate visual merchandising experience in South America, she knew she could offer more professionally. Still, Sandra said she “had to accept the reality” of working in a store so she could pay her rent. She also saw it as an opportunity to continue practicing her English.

However, working her way up professionally was fraught with obstacles — from learning about Minnesota workplace culture and communication styles, to encountering racism in previous jobs.

Again and again, Sandra felt like she was passed up for opportunities because of being an immigrant. “Just because I have an accent, do you think I’m not able to do this work?”

Her Professional Leadership class helped her push through those obstacles. Most important, Sandra said, was learning how to promote herself. This confidence helped her network and meet a mentor who would later encourage and advocate for Sandra. She also learned how to revise her resume and cover letter, how to best apply for corporate jobs, practiced her interview and communications skills, and learned about what makes a good leader.

“With that course I found that it’s kind of a psychological position that you have to have to talk with people, to understand their struggles, to give feedback,” said Sandra, whose friends call her “Sun.”

“A good leader has to be able to understand people, what is happening to a person on a personal level about what they bring to work, understanding people’s personalities, and how to identify talent,” she said. “That course helped me to see what my tools are to be a good leader.”

Now she has the opportunity to put those skills to use and doubled her income.

I’m very passionate about my work. It’s personal. This is me, showing who I am.

As a Senior Stylist for Target Corporation since spring 2022, she builds styling guidelines that can be used for photography and mannequin settings for kids and toddler apparel. She also works on Heritage projects like Pride, Black History Month and Latino Heritage Month.

“I partner with the designers to bring their items to life, building a cohesive visual story that will represent the brand,” Sandra explains. “I’m very passionate about my work. It’s personal. This is me, showing who I am.”

Sandra has come a long way since first arriving at the Institute five years ago, speaking minimal English. Now, she stays connected to the Institute as a financial coaching client, learning about saving for retirement, how to avoid debt, and how to “be smart about finances” — especially as a new homeowner.

As the type of woman who moves through life with plans, goals and initiative, Sandra was always destined for success. Yet, she names the Institute’s educational opportunities and guidance for immigrants among the list of things she’s grateful for.

“Everyone has been very supportive at the Institute,” Sandra said. “If I didn’t have the Institute, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

More Annual Report Stories

Sandra’s story was originally featured in the Institute’s 2023 Annual Report. Read the report and more featured stories.

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Your generous support helps refugees and immigrants find safety and fulfillment in their new lives. Donations in any amount fund our essential programs that allow New Americans to receive expert services, learn English, train for meaningful careers and so much more. Please consider making a gift today.

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