PROSSER -- Raised speaking only Spanish, Juan Valencia was in over his head when he was taught in English on his first day at a U.S. school as a 10-year-old.
"I cried," Valencia, 18, said. "I would go home and say, 'I don't want to be here. I want to go back to Mexico.' "
But even at such a young age, Valencia knew the value of hard work. Born in Washington to migrant workers who took him back to the Mexican state of Michoacan for almost a decade before returning to Washington, Valencia had his first job stocking grocery shelves when he was 7.
The work ethic instilled in him then helped him overcome the culture shock. Today, he graduates from Prosser High School with a 3.8 grade-point average and a full scholarship to Heritage University to study criminal justice.
Never miss a local story.
At Prosser High, he spent one period a day as a teacher's aide in an English class, tutoring students and grading essays.
"I like to do my (school) work," Valencia said. "If I don't have it done, I stress out. I just have to do it."
Now he's focused on the challenge ahead. No one in Valencia's family has graduated from college, something the young man raised in Tepalcatepec has dreamed of doing all along.
"It's inspiring to think that no matter where you come from you can be someone," he said.
His parents entered the country illegally, though his mother has residency papers being processed. His dad abandoned them when Valencia was very young, he said, leaving them to rely on each other until his stepfather entered the picture.
"My family in Mexico thought I would get involved in gangs here," Valencia said. "But my mother made me a good kid, I guess."
He said after college he's interested in working for the FBI or becoming a commercial pilot. The thought of working for the government appeals to him because he believes living in the United States was what afforded him the opportunity to succeed.
"I want to give back to this country," Valencia said.
He has been interested in flying ever since he saw his first airplane at age 5 when greeting family at a small airport in Michoacan.
"I just saw this huge bird parking right there in front of me," Valencia said. "Then I was looking at the sky and saying, 'Wow, I want to be up there.' "
And it won't be long before he is up there. Valencia's family in Mexico bought him a ticket to fly back to his old village two days after he graduates.
"It's a poor area, but you have to love it because it just feels like home," he said.