IES Abroad Customized Program Introduces Latinx Students to Japanese Culture

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Since the establishment of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) in 1986 and formal recognition by congress in 1992, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) have been leaders in making higher education more accessible to Latinx students.

In alignment with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, IES Abroad Diversity Relations Manager Hernando Sevilla-Garcia launched the HSI-specific initiative: Tu Mundo.

An outreach initiative designed to help more students at HSIs/Emerging HSIs to study and intern abroad, Tu Mundo features interactive workshops focusing on topics ranging from intensive scholarship writing to incorporating international academic experiences in a résumé.

The collaboration of Tu Mundo, IES Abroad Customized and Faculty-Led Programs, and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) made it possible for several Latinx students to participate on a study abroad program exploring the history and culture of Japan. UTRGV was named one of the top 50 universities for Latinos by Latino Leaders Magazine and serves the largest number of Latinx students of all Texas universities.

Eleven students from the inaugural Tu Mundo cohort embarked on their journey through Japan this past summer. Read on to hear about their powerful experiences:

A Peer-Leader in Study Abroad: Omar Nedzelsky, Jr.

For Omar Nedzelsky, it wasn't enough to study abroad once, and it wasn't enough to simply do so himself. Energized by his first study abroad experience in England, Omar was determined to study abroad again in England and on the IES Abroad-UTRGV Customized Program in Japan. He also worked to instill a new perspective within his community and to inspire others to make study abroad a reality for themselves. As the Founder and President of the Study Abroad Club at UTRGV, his mission to make education abroad more accessible for diverse students has been successful.

When asked to reflect on those who helped him make study abroad a reality, Omar stated: “I was part of a program at my university called the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). They helped me fund my trip through scholarships. I wanted to return the favor and help other students have the same opportunity and experience as I did—coming from that same migrant background. Leading up to my second trip (once again to London), I managed to organize, counsel, and be an advocate for six CAMP students that really wanted to study abroad. As a result, I was able to help these students receive more than $2,500 each in scholarships to create their own educational experience abroad.”

Omar is a shining example of global citizenship in his dedication to not only expose himself to new cultures, but to help remove financial barriers for other students like himself to study abroad.

Experiencing Dreams Come True: Nancy Picacio

As a history major and political science minor, Nancy Picacio was excited to participate in a culturally-immersive experience.

“The trip to Japan was a once in a lifetime experience for me because I got to see different customs than the ones I have been accustomed to in the Western hemisphere. For two weeks, I experienced Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines,” Nancy said.

When asked to send a message to other UTRGV students considering study abroad, Nancy said: “My advice is that it's once in a lifetime. IES Abroad does their best to plan an incredible experience for each student. They put so much thought into the trip that they choose the best places to visit. If you've always dreamed of traveling, study abroad is for you. Once you study abroad, you will see no obstacles ahead of you because you learned to adjust in a foreign country. I would also advise students to apply for scholarships and work on a good essay that will explain their motivations to study abroad.”

Successful Scholarship Applicant: Ricardo Carrillo

For Ricardo Carrillo, a mechanical engineering student, the IES Abroad-UTRGV study abroad program was made possible after he received the prestigious U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

Discussing his initial reactions after winning the Gilman scholarship, he recalls, “It began to dawn on me….you can do this. I can actually go! I mean, had I been planning this trip a year in advance? Yes. Had I been applying every week for whatever scholarship I could find that could fund my study abroad? Yes.”

By effectively combining various forms of financial aid and scholarships—from the Gilman to Tu Mundo Sweepstakes—Ricardo was able to fully fund this transformative experience.

With IES Abroad Customized & Faculty-Led Programs and Tu Mundo, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has made studying abroad in Japan a possibility for its students by offering services, support, and financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Omar, Nancy, and Ricardo are shining examples of how study abroad cultivates dedicated students into global citizens, and we can't wait to see how studying abroad continues to redefine their world.

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