East Lyme - High school senior Carlos Sanchez hopes to turn his interest in math and science into a career that will help other people.
The 18-year-old, whose coursework includes honors anatomy and Advanced Placement psychology just two years after he moved to Salem from Guayaquil, Ecuador, is fascinated with learning how the human body works and with finding scientific and mathematical explanations for phenomena.
Beyond his academic interests, he wants to become a doctor, likely a psychiatrist, to help people solve their problems.
And he is determined to study and train for more than a decade to make his dream a reality.
Sanchez moved to Salem to live with his mother after she married and has since acquired new language skills and worked his way up to more advanced courses. He will enroll in Three Rivers Community College in Norwich this fall and hopes to later transfer to the University of Connecticut and attend Harvard Medical School.
The drummer and soccer player said he doesn't believe in just waiting for a dream to come true.
"You have to fight for it," Sanchez said.
He came to East Lyme High School as a junior, facing not only the challenges of adjusting from living in a large city to a small town in a new country but also meeting new people and learning a new language. Sanchez said he didn't say much for at least the first six months and struggled to understand his textbooks.
"My brain was in survival mode," he said.
During an interview at the high school last week, a classmate waved to Sanchez and greeted him in Spanish. But Sanchez said he encountered social challenges when he first arrived. Most people had already made friends, and some students even made him the target of jokes, some of which had racial tones, he said. Sanchez said he does not hold the behavior against the students.
Sanchez said he has become close friends with classmate Jon Gilman, who stood up and told other students how smart Sanchez was when they made fun of him.
Through immersion, Sanchez learned the new language. He enjoyed the variety of classes at the high school and realized the importance of studying hard to become a doctor, he said. He found fewer distractions from his studies in his new environment.
Alison Moger, his teacher for American Civics during his junior year and then AP psychology this year, inspired him, he said. She recently presented Sanchez with the Kelsey S. Harrington Foundation scholarship, given each year to a student who has overcome challenges or is entering a helping profession.
"He has unbelievable determination and perseverance," Moger said. "He's a really hard worker."
Moger said Sanchez earned top grades in civics and made progress over a short period of time.
"I see a tremendous future for him," she said. "He has amazing potential."
Sanchez said he is willing to put in hours for his studies and sometimes stays up doing homework until 2 or 3 in the morning.
"I got conditioned," he said, smiling at his use of an AP psychology concept. "I can't stop it now."
He said his grandmother, who helped raise him, taught him the value of studying. He wrote his college application essay on how she inspired him by studying to become a psychologist, all the while working as a secretary and raising his mother.
"That's pretty amazing," he said. "If she didn't give up, why should I?"