XASS: Welcome! Tell us your name, what year you are, and where you’re from.
Nicole: I’m Nicole Benalcázar-Pavlik. I am a sophomore, so class of 2025, although I did take a gap year. I’m from Los Altos, which is ten minutes away from campus.
XASS: Your last name is fascinating. What’s the story?
Nicole: Sure! So Benalcázar is my mom’s maiden name, and Pavlik is my dad’s last name. My mom is from Ecuador, and my dad is from the Czech Republic. My last name is long *laughs*, so sometimes it is frustrating when I have to spell it out for people, but I love my last name because it reflects my background. I’m super proud of my heritage. It’s very unique.
XASS: So how did a lady from Ecuador meet a gentleman from the Czech Republic?
Nicole: My dad came to the US as a refugee fleeing communism. He first went to San Francisco, and then he ended up coming down to this area because he’s an engineer. Silicon Valley is kind of where it’s at for that. My mom came to the US to study English, and she fell in love with America right away. She knew that she wanted her kids to grow up here, and she ended up in the Bay Area as well. They both met at a community college about ten minutes away from Stanford, and they both were learning English there. It’s kind of funny, because now they speak English well, but then they weren’t very good. And so when my dad talked to my mom she didn’t completely understand him, so she would laugh just to be nice but he thought she was flirting!
XASS: That’s beautiful. So have you declared a major yet?
Nicole: I haven’t declared, but I know I’m going to do international relations. I have traveled a lot to my parents’ home countries since I was little, so growing up with three cultures made me super interested in how different people live all over the world. And international relations brings that in, but also it mixes in politics as well. And I’m interested in that, too. It is just super interdisciplinary, which I love.
XASS: So what are you into besides your intellectual pursuits?
Nicole: I love to dance! I’ve always loved it. My mom says when I was little she’d play Shakira, and I was just 3 years old and I’d be wiggling around. From when I was 2 years old until Covid happened, I did ballet which I loved. I feel like ballet… so there are a lot of things I did that I really enjoyed, but one of the reasons I was doing them was for college. But ballet was the one thing that I did simply because I loved doing it. But then Covid happened, and I never went back to the studio. Now I do salsa, and I’m part of the salsa team on campus, which is so fun. It’s different from ballet, but I really am enjoying it. It’s a little…. it’s a little spicy, which is fun. *laughs* And it’s nice to connect with my heritage, too. It’s fun to go back to Ecuador and dance. So yeah, I like to dance! During study breaks I’ll just play music and start dancing around my room. That’s just what I love to do.
XASS: So tell me about how you found out about and got plugged into Chi Alpha.
Nicole: So background: I did not want to join a Christian group at all. My mom used to tell me, “You should join a Christian group.” And I would say, “Um… no thanks!” So what happened was Caleb lived right across the hall, and he would tell me so many times, “Nicole, you should come to Chi Alpha.” But I always said I was busy. And I actually was! I had something to do, but I could have easily moved it around. But one day Caleb was gonna lead worship, and he told my friend and me about this. At the time, I had no idea what worship was. Like genuinely, no clue, but he seemed excited about it. So I was like, “Oh, okay, I’m gonna just go check it out” with no intention of returning. And I remember when I came the first thing that stood out to me was just that everyone was so nice and came up to greet me. I remember Laura specifically. She sat next to me, and she was so kind and welcoming. And on top of that, when people started doing worship I was like, “Oh, so this is what worship is! I did not know you could worship God like this.” And then Grace gave a testimony, and it stuck with me because I realized that everyone who was there wasn’t always sure that they were Christian. And that made me feel I could belong, maybe. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole time because I had something, but as I was biking back to my dorm I was thinking, “Okay, I’m gonna find a way to join this group.”
XASS: How would you describe your religious upbringing?
Nicole: Ever since I was little I went to mass but only on Christmas and sometimes on Easter. Because of this, I believed that God exists, but He felt more like an idea than an actual being. And on top of that my parents didn’t really talk about God. I didn’t even know Jesus was a real person until middle school, and it was only a few months before freshman year when I found out that Jesus is God! I also totally didn’t understand why Christians called Jesus their savior. So I really just didn’t know anything about Christianity. On top of that, in my high school, I didn’t know any Christians who really lived their faith, and honestly it was kind of cool to be an atheist there. So that was around the time when I started doubting if God is real. And I thought even if He is real, there’s no way the resurrection is. But that same year, my sister got confirmed. Before that, I didn’t really feel like I had to go around asking questions. It just didn’t feel that important. But when she got confirmed, I wanted to know what she saw that I didn’t. And that’s really where things started to change. Asking questions is good. Honestly if I hadn’t been a skeptic, I wouldn’t have this relationship with God right now.
XASS: How would you describe your spiritual journey now?
Nicole: Let me think about this…. I know that for the rest of my life I will keep growing in my faith. I think now I’m just really trying to build a solid foundation. I opened the Bible for the first time in April. I never thought I would open one! And I think one thing that I’m learning is to just depend on God fully and trust Him fully. I think that there have been a lot of things in my life that just, you know, drag me away from Him. And I’m learning how to continuously recenter myself around Him and fight off my old self every day. She wants to come back! But God has helped me with all of this. And one thing that’s been really incredibly amazing is just being part of Chi Alpha and seeing how everyone follows God. It’s been really wonderful to have this example of more mature believers to look to and ask questions to but also be able to grow in my faith with them. And having a relationship with God has given me direction, and I’ve found so much joy and peace in Him. I’m still learning though, but it’s been really, really good!
XASS: Is there anything that if I knew you better, I would think to ask about?
Nicole: It’s kind of random, but when I was younger I was super into musicals. From kindergarten to eighth grade I did a musical every year, and it was a huge part of my life. There was a point where I was known for being the villain. No one really expected that because most people thought I was too nice to play a villain. My favorite role was Scar from the Lion King. I ended up stopping with musicals because I chose ballet over them, and ballet just takes a lot of time. But I still sometimes have dreams about being in a musical. I miss it, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices. That’s just how life is. But yeah, that was a big part of my life.
XASS: That’s a great answer! We are now coming to the classic, the famous spotlight series question. Nicole, are you in a relationship?
Nicole: No, I’m not.
XASS: And are you wanting to stay that way or are you eager for a change in status?
Nicole: Eventually I want to marry and have kids, and having a relationship is going to be part of that. *laughs* But I’m not eager for a change right now. Right now I’m actually very content with where I am. I’m not looking for a relationship. Since I just got baptized and over the summer started building a personal relationship with God, I feel like being in a relationship right now would be more of a distraction than a way to go closer to God. And that’s the point, right? To grow closer to God. I just wouldn’t want that distraction right now.