Brian Riefler

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Brian Riefler shares experiences from his life while growing up in Buffalo, New York, and how his family helped shape him into the man he is today. After high school graduation Brian took a gap year in order to complete a community service program in Ecuador. He shares how his experience abroad sparked his interest in immigration and on how it reinforced his belief on the importance of knowing a second language. Brian also discusses the decision making process that brought him to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And, lastly he shares his reflection on how living in North Carolina and away from his family has allowed him to have personal growth.



Alma Islas: [00:00:00] Good afternoon this is Alma Islas recording Brian Riefler and today we are going to talk about, a little bit about his life and just more of his background.
Brian Riefler: Thank you, the pleasure is all mine Alma.
AI: Okay Brian, well to begin I wanted to ask you [00:00:21] how was your life growing up?
BR: How was my life growing up...umm I’m from Buffalo, New York, so I am not originally from North Carolina, but the spill I always give is we call Buffalo, Buffa-love, is because we have love for snow, chicken wings and buffalo bills.
AI: That’s wonderful.
BR: It’s a great place to grow up.
AI: That’s beautiful I really like that. So growing up there, is there anything that you would say is, I don’t know, part of your story? Anything you want to share, more details, I guess precisely about how life was growing up in Buffalo.
BR: Sure, it’s fine, so as an out of state student at UNC, I think I have reflected a lot about the meaning of home and especially, [00:01:12] what home means to me, being away from Buffalo. Like I definitely would say I found a new home in North Carolina and I would say I have done that just because of the relationships I have build with people. So the meaning of home for me is the just really like my family and friends back in Buffalo. My grandparents had a very profound influence on me. I am the youngest of three siblings. I have an older brother and an older sister. I have a gorgeous cat. Her name is Izzy. I just want to squeeze her right now. I miss her so much. My mom and cousins Like I have always had a strong support and network growing up. I think my parents always wanted to see me succeed. So I am very blessed with my upbringing.
AI: That’s wonderful. It’s really good to hear, so you said you are the oldest.
BR: I am the youngest of three
AI: Oh the youngest of three. What about your siblings, what are they doing and how have they influenced you in how you see yourself as an adult now.
BR: It’s very interesting always being the youngest of three; I’ve always felt like I would fall under the footsteps of my siblings. I remember in the 6th grade, that’s when public education starts for the public middle schools in New York. So my older brother, he took Latin and my older sister took French, so I could have decided to take any of those two languages, but the third one that none of us had taken before was Spanish, so I don’t know I guess I just wanted to do something different and also it’s such an applicable language, especially in a society today. [00:02:46] So I decided to take Spanish and its so fun and now that you are here interviewing me in a class about Latino migration. So I think that one decision at the time I didn’t realize it but I think has definitely had a lot of repercussions and so my siblings, like I definitely respect them and I have always looked up to them. In high school my brother was two years older than me. So all his friends took me around calling me little Riefler. Like we basically sound identical, so like, it was really cool. My brother, all his friends are talking to me, I am so cool, I am a freshman and I am being acknowledged in front of all of these upperclassmen. And like, my sister went to my high school’s quote-on-quote sister school, because my school was an all-guys school. So my sister has always been like a role model for me, I have always had a lot of respect for her.
AI: That’s awesome. So I guess can you tell me a little bit more, now that we have talked about your siblings, can you tell me a little bit more about your parents and how their upbringing made you the person you are today. And I guess so to speak, which one had more influence than the other.
BR: That is a really good question. Yeah I love my family, like I said, I am definitely a family man. [00:04:30] So, my mom is a homemaker, my parents own a small family business. My mom takes care of the financial end of things and my dad takes more care of the business side of things. So my family owns a small laundry mat and my dad also works in construction. So I think I am very privileged, like growing up, I did have a stay at home mom and she was always very caring, so she would always do my laundry for me, cook us dinner. Like a lot of times I would take those things for granted, but being a mom is a full time job, and now that I am especially in college, I have to take care of myself. I live independently, I don’t think I appreciate like those little things that she did for me growing up. Like ironing my shirt you know like before I got to school, or like packing my lunch. I think love is just compassion with its work boots on. Like, the little actions that we do really do add up. I think it says a lot about her character and what I mean to her and she means a lot to me. My dad I didn’t really see as much growing up. So he works and is the breadwinner of the family. He would always come later and I would see after a long day of work, so he was always tired. But he would always see how we were doing, so he would always wanted to play Frisbee or football. So that’s how we always bonded, it was like, over sports. He played lacrosse in high school and growing up so he had my brother and I get involved in lacrosse, so I played for about 8 years before middle school and then I realized I liked the running aspect of lacrosse more, so I then I dropped lacrosse, I think he was a little disappointed. But I think he respected my decision, and then I got really involved with cross-country and track. But he always wanted to see me happy, whether that was driving me to practice or just teaching me how to throw a ball. That’s something I really appreciate. Like mother’s day is coming and I will be sure to thank my mom and my dad on Father's Day. Like never forget about our parents. I know we get busy with school and life. So yeah I could go on and on and on.
AI: That’s wonderful, I really enjoyed that and getting to know that particular piece of your family. When you were growing up did you have more relatives nearby, or was it more just your immediate family that you grow up with.
BR: [00:07:18] So I was really close with my parents growing up, and I still am. Two of my grandparents are missionaries so they traveled the globe as Christians. They had a very strong religious influence on me growing up, taking me to church, exposing me to the gospel. So I have a close relationship through Jesus Christ. My maternal grandmother, we have always been very close, we always went over her house growing up, whether it was cooking or she would take us to the movies, or w we would watch movies at her house. She cares a lot about us. I still call her on a regular basis. I have my paternal grandmother and grandfather, my grandfather passed away about 10 years ago from lung cancer, but he was huge influence on me growing up. I definitely look up to him as a role model. He is almost like a clone of my dad, but obviously he has wisdom. So growing up he wants to see me succeed. My grandmother was like very sweet as well, growing up. So I had a very supportive network. I didn’t really hang out with my cousins growing up. They live in Virginia, so we would see them a couple of times a year when they would come visit us and we would go on family vacations in the outer banks, sometimes, when we could find common time, but locally my grandparents and my immediate family.
AI: That’s really good. Yeah, so this just gets more and more interesting as we get further along, I like it. I guess it sounds like there is a lot of really good memories for you from back home. Definitely lots of love and you are right you are very fortunate to have that family aspect in your life and you know a lot of people don’t get that and they don’t realize how a family can be. So you are very fortunate to have that. So [00:09:30] how were you interested in coming to North Carolina particularly UNC, how was that…
BR: What brought me here?
AI: Yes what did, being that you know New York, you have all of your family, you who you really love. So how did that happen?
BR: So yeah, it was interesting, my final decisions for schools came to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a Math and Engineering school in the middle of New York State, so they gave me a pretty scholarship there and it was pretty close to home, like 3-4 hours away from home so that was a very promising option for me. I also, got accepted to UNC and I had never been down to North Carolina, except for family vacations to the outer banks, so like I kind of had a tangential understanding of the region, but I didn't like really know what it meant to be a Tar Heel. You know like Carolina basketball, you always see it on TV. But you never really internalized, that’s actually also a school so, they have sports and academics and social life. So I decided to move to my two best options and I visited UNC and I just really absolutely loved it. I really liked that quintessential college experience, growing sports and academics and so many opportunities and such an honor to be accepted to one of the top universities in the nation. And, I knew coming here there would be so many opportunities, and I was really interested in math and science. And, I knew I could always find a job after graduation at the Research Triangle Park, so I was really hoping I could get my foot in the door somewhere and I really saw UNC as a launching pad. So there is a few factors that brought me to UNC, so now as a junior I feel very nostalgic and I wish I could be a freshman all over again. But I absolutely cherish my time here, time’s gone fast, but maybe I’ll be here for grad school, I don’t know. I definitely call myself a tar heel and I consider myself one of first siblings who came to North Carolina and didn’t know a lot of students. Like a lot of my peers had friends from high school and I didn’t. I didn’t really know anybody and like a lot of my friends from high school stayed back home. So that was a huge transition for me and I think I made a new home here and I think [00:11:53] home is where the heart is and it’s about making those relationships with people and whether I am in Buffalo or North Carolina I am always going to have a home somewhere, because I am surrounded by people who love me.
AI: That’s wonderful, that really gave me chills. So I guess, so to speak, you kind of, we can set the example that you immigrated here to North Carolina.
BR: True, yes.
AI: So what is that experience to have to leave home. I know you just spoke on it a little bit. But I guess more in regards to immigration wise, how does it feel to leave all of your loved ones. Let’s say how does it feel to leave all of your loved ones. Like let’s take it back to freshman year, how was that feeling of leaving those loved ones and having basically no one that you really knew.
BR: Yeah, this is the first time I thought of it, you made that connection. I guess that in that literal sense of the word of migrants, interesting because we are talking about a Latino migration class. It has been a transition for me coming to North Carolina. And I guess I always thought that UNC is really like a beacon of opportunities, like it’s such an honor to be here at UNC. Like there is a lot that goes into it right. Like freshman year isn’t a very exciting time like you want to get involved with everything, and you craving really a new life for yourself, but also, there’s like the life you are leaving behind back home. Maybe, I am not necessarily home physically, but there is always somewhere like I hold close to my heart and like, I always still carry those same values with me and I still stay in contact with my family and friends. I watch the Buffalo Bills on TV. I do have those roots back home in Buffalo, but I am also establishing new roots here in North Carolina. So it’s interesting having that duality. It’s like a split identity. Being from New York and also from North Carolina.
AI: That’s interesting. I guess to dig a little bit deeper. To dig down, that particular question. You said you are establishing new roots here in North Carolina. So, would you see yourself forming a life here or do you see yourself migrating to another state or?
BR: Umm...great question. Umm…being a junior I think I definitely have a more concrete sense in what I want to obtain in life, but I think I am also just as fuzzy as I was when I was a freshman. And, I do think that I have a moral compass that is guiding me at the end of the day. That I want to be happy wherever I am. So what ever job, can really bring out the best of me and make me passionate about what I am doing. Then I will really know that I have found what is right for me. Whether that is North Carolina or back home in Buffalo, or even in another state. I think I am just very comfortable now with the process of flux and transitioning. So I, if I did have to move again, I think it’s hard, but if it’s the best decision for me I trust that it will work out, because I have that experience before and that confidence.
AI: So just to kind of make a connection. Could you think of having to leave your home for economical reasons? Has that ever cross your mind, like when you came here to North Carolina, like you said, I am going to be here, I don’t know how long I’m going to go without seeing my family. Could you imagine that, doing that for economic reasons and not having those same uncertainties, of not knowing whether your going to see your family once a month or in two years. Can you describe to me a little how you think you would feel if you would ever had to face that.
BR: If I had to?
AI: Yes.
BR: I can imagine if some day I would to have a family, like my wife and kids. I am really interested in business, so I could just like imagine a consulting job, I could just travel back and forth and like not seeing my family, but like at the end of the day I am putting food on the table, from consulting, a well paying job, how would I feel about that from my own perspective and how would my family feel. I think there is a lot of, I think it’s stressful, but also, it is a compromise. If you believe this is the best decision at that particular moment then I think, both myself and my wife and kids I think will respect the decision that we are making and if we are committed to making this work then maybe that would make this process of adjustment a lot easier, because it could be more difficult. But having your heart in it that it could work out because it is the best for us, then I think that would make it a lot easier.
AI: That’s great, that’s a great answer. So where? It sounds like most of your strength comes from your family.
BR: Yeah I would agree, my family, my friends, and my faith. The three f’s
AI: That’s awesome, is there anything else that you want to add at all, along to, we have been talking about where did you grow up and establishing new roots. Anything you want to add about that conversation.
BR: I don’t know. I could just keep talking and talking.
AI: Well I guess if you could say that something defines you, truly defines you and defines your purpose. Like coming to UNC is a purpose of its own. But if you could say at least one world of what defines your purpose here in North Carolina here at UNC, what would you say.
BR: What defines my purpose in North Carolina...umm...I need a minute to think about this.
AI: That’s okay.
BR: I think there is power in language, so I want to be cognizant that I am using the right word to what I want to necessarily express. If I had to provide one word that you know defines, my reasons for being in North Carolina, [00:18:54] I would say: opportunity, opportunity.
AI: That’s beautiful, I like that a lot.
BR: Because we are at the land of opportunities. We are very privileged to have that opportunity to go to college and it is something that most people in the world do not have. It is a privilege.
AI: Well, we are getting down to narrowing down this part of the interview. You are in this immigration class. What most interest you about this class? Why did you decide to apply to this class?
BR: That’s a great question. Hmmm… So I guess that I started Spanish in middle school, so [00:19:36] I had a love for the Spanish language. English is a beautiful language and so is Spanish; words flow off the tongue. So I studied abroad in Ecuador, I took a gap year after high school I volunteered in Ecuador for about 10 months. I learned a lot of Spanish in the classroom, like very comfortable with the basic understanding with being able to read and write. I definitely hold my abilities to speak Spanish close to my host community and integrating myself and coming back to the United States and that I want to connect with Latino people. I think something that I have learned is that everybody has a story. And I love talking to people, meeting new people and I heard about this class from an upper classman Cora Went I was a freshman and she was a junior and it sounded awesome. She was so passionate about it. This class was always on my radar since freshman year. But it just awesome to be doing the service work that I am doing now, with Nani in the dining hall. It’s just really awesome to put my Spanish into good use. I think at first I just saw Spanish as a good opportunity to help me get a job. But also opportunity is responsibility. Not everyone can speak Spanish or has the ability to be comfortable in both languages. So to me it is just awesome to be able to use my Spanish as a tool to connect with people
AI: I like that. You mention a lot about opportunity. So I guess this is a last overarching question. If you had the opportunity to go proceed to a higher education... How would you think that would change your life?
BR: I is the hypothetical that always is like...what if’s. Reader of the future per say, whatever point in time I would be at, I would make the best out of it. But being able to come to Carolina was the best opportunity for me at that time so I took advantage of that. But if I didn’t have access to a higher education I would make the best decision that I had based on my situation, whatever that may be.
AI: Brian thank you so much!
BR: Thank you!
AI: It was a pleasure to interview you.
BR: Thank you the pleasure is all mine.
AI: [00:22:29] Well this concludes the interview with Brian; this is Alma.
BR: It’s not the end it’s just the beginning...zing!