March 16, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Tara Lestarjette
Though writing is only a time-passing hobby for Andrés Olaya Ruiz, professionals say he has the potential to go far.
A native of Colombia and a graduate student at Sam Houston State University, Ruiz was recently recognized for his historical fiction short story “La Madamita," which was published in the March edition of the Spanish magazine "Solanuna."
“La Madamita” is a fictional love story set during the battle for Colombia’s independence in 1814.
“The story starts in the first stages of the independence war, when Venezuelans and Colombians fought against the Spanish armies,” Ruiz said. “It is a true story of an impossible love between a South American soldier and a French immigrant girl, in the middle of a war.”
Ruiz said he commonly uses fiction to relate his thoughts on the history of Colombia. This particular story is one of many that Ruiz has written throughout the years. He has also completed a novel, though it has not yet been published.
“In my study of Colombian history, I have found a lot of amazing stories that are 'stranger than fiction,’” he said. "I have found that most of the people in Colombia do not know about these stories, and I think it is important that people know their story.”
Rafael Saumell-Muñoz, director of graduate studies for the foreign languages department, works closely with Ruiz and said he feels that his works are very promising.
“Andrés let me read his short story, ‘La Madamita,’ and asked my opinion about it,” said Saumell-Muñoz. “I found it very well written, with an interesting plot, and a very creative treatment of the historical context and personalities involved.”
His fascination with fiction comes from a family of storytellers. His uncle, Dario Ruiz-Gómez, has published 13 works and encourages Ruiz to keep writing.
Since his boyhood, Ruiz has been a passionate learner, in all fields of studies, according to his sister, Isabel Ruiz, who is an assistant professor of economics in the College of Business Administration.
“Andrés reads more than anyone I know,” said Isabel. “My parents have a huge library at home and he reads most of the books we own.“
Ruiz hopes to use his knowledge and skills to help others. Growing up, he chose biology and health as his field of study because of “his love for people and communities,” Isabel said.
His love for traveling led him to work in Colombia's underserved areas, trying to help the poor, according to Isabel.
“I was the director of controlling malaria, including other diseases,” Ruiz said. “I went to the areas that no one else wanted to go. Sadly, I had to quit my job because it got too dangerous.”
He graduated from the Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia with a biology degree and then decided to transfer to SHSU.
“It was clear that he needed to further his graduate education, so I encouraged him to come to Sam Houston,” said Isabel.
Ruiz's experience here hasn't come without challenges. He arrived in Huntsville knowing only basic English. His first step was to go through the English Language Institute at SHSU. According to Isabel, he achieved the highest score on the Toelfl in his cohort.
He then chose to pursue a Master of Arts degree in health due to his fervor to help others. He also began to work as a graduate assistant under Saumell-Muñoz with the Spanish graduate program, a new field in the foreign language department.
“He is a very dedicated and hardworking individual, tactful, polite, discreet, does his work with quality and on time,” said Saumell-Muñoz. “He came to SHSU with a solid education and professional training from Colombia. He has worked many hours helping in the foundation of our Master of Arts in the Spanish program, and I always seek for his advice.”
“The transition wasn’t too difficult, thanks to my sister,” Ruiz said. “The language is still confusing, but I really like the people here. It’s not a perfect place, but the people are respectful and sincere.”
From a sister’s perspective, the experience has “enriched his life and his views about the world, his goals, his creativity," Isabel said. "He has come to appreciate the beauty of the American culture.”
Ruiz said he has learned about additional opportunities and will apply for his doctorate of philosophy after he graduates in December, which will give him options for his future.
“I wanted to get in and get out so that I can continue to work with tropical diseases in Colombia. I could work with a government organization or be a professor," he said. "But now I’m also considering staying in the area. Maybe I could help just as much from here.”
Regardless of the career he decides to pursue after graduation, Ruiz said he will also continue his “hobby” of writing stories, something his recent publication has encouraged.
“It’s not about the money or recognition, but it does encourage me to keep writing and improving," he said. "This is like practice. I eventually want to write a more personal story. One that tells a story about what I really think and feel.”
Though he revealed little detail, Ruiz smiled when he said that he cannot wait to write his next book, a story that will be very personal to his heart.
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