Carolina Aponte migrated From Margarita Island in the Caribbean to Miami when 13, left Miami at 16 and returned when 20 . Her amazing story on how she became an successful accountant is worth your listen.
Carolina Aponte is the founder of CAJA Holdings, LLC and Outsource Accounting provider in Indian Trail, NC.
I consider myself successful because I have time to spend with my family.
Paula: [00:00:00] Welcome to Chatting With The Experts. It’s a podcast for immigrant women from Nigeria, Ghana, and the Caribbean who have relocated to the UK and the US. In this case, I am going to be talking to someone who has relocated from the Caribbean to the USA and not the UK. In this newly revamped, Chatting With The Experts
[00:00:23] we talk about the struggles and we highlight the triumphs experienced while sharing experiences, resources that our fellow immigrants, sisters can all benefit from. Today I have a special lady as a guest. She’s my Caribbean sister, Carolina Aponte, who lives and works in
[00:00:56] North Carolina . Carolina is the founder of CAJA Holdings, LLC and Outsource Accounting Provider, which is based in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Carolina graduated from Florida’s Nova Northeastern University and holds a Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses and entrepreneurship certificate. Wow. Latin American Businesswoman 2012 Award in Charlotte, NC and the 2017 NAWBO Charlotte Rising Star Award.
[00:01:22] She’s also a recipient of the Mecklenburg times Phenoms Honoree and 2020 50 most influential women in the Charlotte region. You’ll see why I said I am really thrilled and blessed to have Carolina on my show So, Carolina, if I left anything else? About to tell about you. Can you tell my listening audience?
[00:01:44] This is fantastic.
Carolina: [00:01:48] Absolutely. Well, first of all, thank you for the invitation. I am looking forward to our conversation today. I think the one thing you left out is that I am also a published author, Pave Your Own Way is my book that was published in October of 2020 during the pandemic. And it received an award for creativity.
[00:02:08] So I’m also excited about having that under my belt.
Paula: [00:02:12] That’s so exciting. I knew there was something special and I wanted you to say it in your own words. So Carolina like me is an immigrant to the U S but let’s talk about your formal education. Did you go to school in the US or, tell us about that.
Carolina: [00:02:29] Yeah, absolutely. So I went to school in Margarita Island, which is a small Island in the Caribbean – part of Venezuela
[00:02:35] and I was going to an all girls Catholic school, very small, about 200 population at the time.And, that’s where I did my elementary school years. I moved to the U S at 13, and attended a public school, where I did, part of, middle school and part of high school. And that was a culture shock because coming from a small school, all girls moving into, 3000 plus, student body, of boys and girls, definitely a cultural shock to say the least.
Paula: [00:03:09] I can only imagine. So can you tell us a bit about your cultural shock? Because that’s one of the things I want to talk about in this program.
Absolutely. So, you know, coming from now, like I said, from a small Island where everybody knows everybody and, everybody speaks the same language Spanish, moved to Miami and I found myself in a school that had not only, white people, African-Americans and then people from all over the world and all over South America, Central America, Cuba, and the Caribbean. And so everybody had a different way of communicating a different, you know, dialect too. So not only I was trying to learn English, but then I was also trying to understand where everybody was coming from when they spoke to me.
[00:03:59] So that was a big cultural shock for me, it was, it was very tough on the first couple of months to sort of get acclimated and figure out, you know, how to even make friends when I didn’t speak the same way as everybody.
[00:04:21] So you mentioned that you migrated to the U S at the age of 13, but I. I realized in talking with you earlier that you went back to Venezuela and then remigrated if there’s a word like that in back in the United States.
Carolina: [00:04:36] Yeah. So, so then you know, that cultural shock went by. I learned how to speak English.
[00:04:41] I made friends, I had a boyfriend,I mean, my first sweetheart and life was going well. I was happy. I was getting integrated into the American way of life. And one day my parents called me and said, we need to talk. We have lost our business and our finances have been depleted. So we have to go back to Venezuela.
[00:05:03] And I was 16 years old. And like I said, I had this life that I was now, enjoying. And they said, well, we’ve got to go back to Venezuela. And so we returned to my home country and it was, uh, devastating for me, um, because all of the plans and all of the things that I thought I was gonna do like go to college and do all of those things was not going to happen.
[00:05:27] And so when I got to Venezuela, the second time around, I just made up my mind. Some events happened during that transition that made me have that kind of epiphany sort of speak to say, this is not where I belong. This is a temporary stay. And as soon as I have the means and the resources, I will go back to the United States.
[00:05:51] And so I stayed in Venezuela for that period of time. It was almost four years. And at the age of 20, I made my way back to Miami not having finished high school. So I did not have a formal education because while I was in Venezuela, I went to work. I was trying to save money and make myself sort of build the way for me to come back to the United States because I came at 20 no high school, no family just on my own to make something of myself, because I thought that’s where I belong.
[00:06:21] And so the journey began.
Paula: [00:06:27] What a story. I mean, I just finished listening to all your accolades, all the wonderful things you’ve done. And now you’re telling us this, that you had to come back to United States, aged 20, no parents, I assume without having finished high school. All right. So how was that time? How did that work out?
Carolina: [00:06:46] Well, I think it turned out well, you’re talking to me.
Paula: [00:06:49] Absolutely. Yes.
Carolina: [00:06:52] It was tough, but I had made my decision and I am sort of a very driven individual and I made my decision that this is what I was going to do.
Paula: [00:07:00] All right. So you came to the United States, you came back to the United States, an independent young woman, 20 no parents, but with a determination to make it.
Carolina: [00:07:09] So with a determination that this is where I was going to build my future. And so, you know, first I had a couple of jobs, low pay because again, no high school degree, no college degree, the options were great, but I did make sure that I went into a professional environment. So I got a job as a receptionist for a law firm.
[00:07:29] And so I was exposed to a different sort of environment and where I could learn different skillsets. I was bilingual. So that was my plus. That was the thing that made me different. And that gave me the opportunity. So I spoke both languages. So I was hired as a receptionist and I would translate for the clients and, and, and while I was doing that, then I would go at night to study to get my GED so that I could have the opportunity to go to college.
Paula: [00:07:59] That’s amazing. That’s really amazing. And I’m thinking just the fact that you were bilingual gave you an extra advantage because you were, you, as you said, an receptionist, that skill is needed.
Carolina: [00:08:11] Yeah. And I believe that this truly was what made the difference in my life and being able to move forward and the different positions that I took on in my career, because I had that advantage because I spoke two languages.
[00:08:26] And because I had learned the different cultures, so I was able to sort of blend in and be able to understand people and how to communicate. And so that made me a likable individual, somebody who people wanted to work with.
Paula:[00:08:42] That’s, that’s great. So now, so you’ve gone back to school, you’re doing your GED, you’re working in the day.
[00:08:49] Going to school at night and you’re capitalizing on a lot of opportunities because America is looked at as the land of opportunities. So I’m looking at you now as a 20 year old woman, and it doesn’t matter how old we are. We are still 20 in our minds. Right?
Carolina: [00:09:07] Even if our body doesn’t feel that way.
Paula: [00:09:09] So right about that!
[00:09:15] And so, all right, so you’re doing that. You’re 20. You have your plans. So now I I’m looking ahead. So you finished your GED, your high school. You decided you’re going to go to college. and …..
Carolina: [00:09:29] in between all of those things, while I was the receptionist, I had a lot of time in my hands and I am an Individual who needs to keep busy.
[00:09:38] I have a lot of energy and so staying put and doing nothing is not appealing to me. So I was trying to figure out in that business, what else could I do while I waited for the phones to ring or whatever to fill my time, the office manager was doing the books, the bookkeeping. This is – I’m going to date myself.
[00:09:57] This was back in the day. Prior to QuickBooks prior to any software, this was green ledgers paper with all the columns going down. And as she was doing, that’s how she was doing the bookkeeping. And I said to her, you know, do you want me to help you? I see you’re really busy and I have time. So if there’s anything you want to give me, I’ll be happy to do it while you’re doing all this stuff.
[00:10:22] And she said, you know what? Why don’t you add this up for me? Because I am, it’s not adding up and it’s taking too much of my time. So she showed me and I took on that task. And when I finished reconciling, I felt this level of satisfaction that I had completed something. And if it was like, I want to do this.
[00:10:47] Like, this is what I want to do. This feels good. And that’s how I discover. I like the company.
Paula: [00:10:54] That’s great. That’s great. And you know a lot of people listening to you and I, because I did accounting too. I remember those spreadsheets and they may be thinking, how would you ever like that? It’s amazing how you learned to use that machine that adding machine, you know, with your right hand, if you’re right handed.
[00:11:10] Yeah, just looking at you… just going
Carolina: [00:11:12] Yes, you don’t look at the, at the machine at all. Um, but I just, I found it fascinating and that’s how I just told her that that was the career I was going to pursue because prior to that, I came to, you know, like, you know, to the U S I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew that this was where I was going to do my life.
[00:11:31] And so I discovered accounting and then everything else that followed was in the pursuit of building an accounting career. And so eventually when I did end up going to college, that was, that’s what I wanted to study.
Paula: [00:11:45] And that made life easier because you knew what you wanted to do.
Carolina: [00:11:49] Absolutely. I do always tell young people just trying to figure out what is your passion.
[00:11:57] What drives you? What makes you want to get up in the morning? That’s what you need to be doing, because you can tell people, you should study this, or you should study that, or you, you know, because this is a great career or this is a great moneymaking opportunity, but if you’re not passionate about it, it’s very hard to make a living and be happy with it. If, if, if your heart is not in it.
Paula: [00:12:20] I think that’s a very good tip. That’s a great tip because, you know, as you said, when you get up in the morning, if you look forward to going to work and it’s work and is a passion, it takes on a different dimension. It’s no longer work. You’re going to go do something that you love doing and it comes through.
[00:12:36] And even your work, your attitude, your work, ethics, your clients, see it. If you’re employed your employers see how much you really love what you’re doing. And that makes for a better life overall.
Carolina: [00:12:50] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Paula: [00:12:52] Wow. So, okay. My question, my next question was going to be like, okay, so we talked about America being a land of opportunities and you saw an opportunity and you capitalized on it.
[00:13:03] Well, how would you tell somebody listening to this who is planning to come to America possibly, or they’re already here and they feel kind of stuck. What would you say to them in terms of like resources, how would you encourage them?
Carolina: [00:13:18] So the one, one of the things that I believe makes a difference in you, whether you’re coming new or, or you’re here and you’re feeling stuck is to try to integrate into the society that you’re in. Don’t isolate yourself because.
[00:13:36] If you integrate, or if you try to learn from the culture you’re in, you will find that there’s a lot more opportunities available to you. When you try to learn the language, when you try to learn people’s behaviors and reasons for doing what they do, you’ll have a better chance for people to think of you in a different light and say, Hey, you know, there’s this thing going on. I think I want to invite this person over. I want to bring them along with me. And so it opens up all of this different opportunities that if you maintain yourself only within your own group of people to call it something, you know, like if I only hang around with Venezuelans. What are my opportunities if I’m living in an Indian trail, North Carolina, right?
[00:14:25] There’s not that many Venezuelans here, so my opportunities are going to be limited. But if I decide that I’m going to surround myself with all different people that are in this city, then my opportunities to expand. So that would be my advice. Just get out of your comfort zone,
Paula: [00:14:42] Have an open mindset.
Carolina: [00:14:45] Absolutely.
Paula: [00:14:46] And, you know, there’s something that you said too with the open mindset now that during the lockdown or COVID – the pandemic, there’s so many more opportunities to meet so many people, zoom is a great tool. There are lots of virtual networking meetings. So expand your horizon. I love that. I love that tip.
[00:15:06] I love that. So we are about to wrap up, but before we wrap up, is there anything that you want me to ask that I haven’t asked? Okay. Is there any question that you’re like, “Well, I hope she asked me this, that she hasn’t said it”
Carolina: [00:15:17] For immigrants and for people who are coming, you know, whether it is the Caribbean or any other country into the United States, it is the land of opportunity, but you have to make yourself available for those opportunities.
[00:15:31] It is up to you to open the door and make sure that whatever is available is accessible to you. So keep that in mind – that it’s not, it’s not just because you show up, things are going to happen, it is you have to actively participate. I have been actively participating. I’m putting in a hundred percent of both into whatever I decide to do.
[00:15:56] So I wanted to be an accountant. I was in, I learned everything in accounting from A to Z to make sure that I was an expert in the field. When I decided to become an owner, I took all of the courses and all of the knowledge that I could take even doing the Goldman Sachs program so that I could be an expert in my business.
[00:16:18] So just go all in so that all of those opportunities. So the awards didn’t come by themselves. They came because I make myself available.
Paula: [00:16:29] She made herself available. And that’s the key to success because I’m about to ask you, do you consider yourself a success, Carolina?
Carolina: [00:16:38] I think success looks different for everybody.
[00:16:41] For some people it’s financial, you know, things for others is, you know, professional accolade for others, their family. And so for me, I consider myself successful because I have, uh, I have time to spend with my family. But I am in a business that I enjoy, and that brings me a lot of satisfaction when I help others succeed.
[00:17:04] So I, yeah, I consider myself very successful.
Paula: [00:17:07] I love to hear that. I love to hear that. So for our listeners, you’ve heard Carolina. Carolina. What’s your last name? I don’t think I pronounced it. Right?
Carolina: [00:17:18] So the full name is Carolina Aponte
Paula: [00:17:20] Carolina Aponte.
[00:17:22] You’ve heard Carolina Aponte so you may be interested in hearing more about her or doing business with her.
[00:17:28] So Carolina , can you tell me, can you tell our listeners rather where they can find you.
Carolina: [00:17:33] Absolutely. So there’s two ways. One is my, my name, carolinaaponte.com. That’s my personal website where my, my book Pave Your Own Way is available -13 Skills To Create Your Professional Success and the other website is my business for accounting, which is CAJA Holdings – cajaholdings.com and you can schedule a 15 minutes free consultation if you are in the market for accounting services and fractional CFO advice. And those are the two places you can find me.
[00:18:14] It’s a podcast primarily focused on immigrant women from three regions- from Nigeria, Ghana, and the Caribbean. And we are here to let you listeners know that there are amazing talent. There are amazing women that come from those parts of the world that you may not have heard of. And if you want to know more about chatting with the experts on how to be a guest, visit me online at www.chattingwiththeexperts.com/contact.
[00:18:43] I would love to hear from you. And if you qualify to be a guest, you will be on. This new podcast, like Carolina and so many of the people from, from Nigeria, the Caribbean and Ghana have been. Thank you so much. And thank you. Carolina. I loved talking with you today.