Charlie Espinosa’s life is different in the United States than it was when he lived in South America.
He says the biggest differences are less poverty and more safety.
Espinosa, 29, was born in Miami, and raised in Colombia, South America, where he lived until he was 16 years old. He moved to Charlotte to get away from the poverty and crime. For two years, he lived with his uncle, Hugo Galeano, who played soccer for the Charlotte Eagles.
“In Colombia, once a year, I used to eat hamburgers only on my birthday,” he said. “When I come here, I ate it every day … every day because it’s a luxury.”
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Most meals in Colombia consisted of beans and rice, with some beef being served on Sundays for family gatherings, he said.
Charlie and his mom lived with his grandmother in Manrrique Oriental, which he described as an unsafe area of Colombia.
“(There were) killings every day. We’d play soccer in the street and there would be shootings,” Espinosa said. “Some of my friends were taken because of the violence. Here you can walk wherever and not be afraid of being shot.”
He spoke only Spanish when he came to the United States, so while working in restaurants as a dishwasher he gradually learned English from Latin cooks. When he was 18, his uncle’s visa expired and Galeano had to return to South America, leaving Espinosa alone.
Espinosa worked for a grocery store full-time and rented a room from a coworker. He met his wife at the grocery store when she also worked.
He said he got scholarship offers to play soccer at Bryan College in Tennessee and at Pheiffer University, but he didn’t play or attend either college.
“I was just 19 and newly married and I bought a house,” Espinosa said. “My wife and I were starting a new life.”
Now he feels it is time to get his college education.
Espinosa worked, saved money, bought a house in Monroe, but wanted more.
“I quit my job because I saw other people with college degrees getting better positions” he said.
So he enrolled as a freshman in Wingate University’s sports management program in August. His wife, Jennifer, who is 30, is inan adult degree completion program at Wingate’s Ballantyne Campus, having studied at Ohio State University.
She works as a youth fitness coordinator at Siskey YMCA.
Charlie and Jennifer have three sons: Levi, 3, Evan, 7, and Charlie Jr., 8.
“My plans after graduation are to get a master’s (degree) in sport management,” Espinosa said. “I want to be a college professor and own my own soccer business, like an indoor soccer complex.”