(CSUCI) English major Hector Gonzalez has been curious about other countries for as long as he can remember.
“I spent a lot of my childhood reading about other countries,” Gonzalez, 21, said. “My mom got me this book that was a collection of mythology from around the world. I remember getting into the idea of the storytelling that came from other countries.”
Gonzalez’s plans are on hold with the pandemic, but two prestigious national scholarships are enabling him to travel abroad for the first time in his life sometime in 2021-22 to study at the University of Tsukuba, one of the largest and oldest universities in Japan. Gonzalez will get the full cost of attendance and living expenses covered through the Toshizo Watanabe Study Abroad Scholarship and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
“I’ve never even left the state before,” said Gonzalez, 21, who is also working on earning a minor in Economics. “Japan is an interesting country, economically speaking. I wanted to learn more about it from the Japanese professors. The other reason is I was pursuing the idea of teaching English as a second language through the Japanese Exchange in Teaching (JET) program.”
Gonzalez became interested in teaching English as a second language while watching his parents, who immigrated from Mexico, learn English.
“There’s a bit of a disconnect when teaching English as a secondary language,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve gotten into the nitty-gritty of language and linguistics and I think there’s a way to develop a more efficient method to teach English to those who come from Mexico.”
Born and raised in Ventura, Gonzalez never believed he would wind up in college, much less traveling to another country to study. His parents, who both work as cooks, were aware that Gonzalez was bright and curious and encouraged him to attend college, but could help him only to a point as they had not attended college themselves.
“I’ve always debated on whether I was going to pursue higher education because I come from a low-income family. My biggest back and forth in high school was whether I should go into the workforce and earn a paycheck to help my family,” Gonzalez said. “I’m only really here at CSUCI because of the support I had from specific teachers.”
Among the teachers who influenced him was his social science teacher at Foothill Technology High School, Claire Adams, who took time to help him cultivate ideas, sometimes staying after class to talk to him and encourage him.
“She was from England so when we would talk about a point in American history, she would talk about how she learned it in England. It was super interesting,” he said. “In England they refer to the American Revolution as the Great Rebellion.”
When he arrived at CSUCI, professors like Kathleen Klompien, Ph.D., who taught Gonzalez freshman English, saw his potential and urged him to apply to be a peer mentor with the University Experience Program, which he did.
“Hector is an amazing embedded peer mentor,” said University Experience Program Director Marie Francois, Ph.D., referring to peer mentors who are a regular part of a class. “He has a wonderfully inclusive style, seeking input from his mentees to tailor his support to meet their individual needs. He brings strength as a humanities major to help students from other majors build their confidence with writing and urging them to seek help at the Writing Multiliteracy Center.”
Gonzalez knows he could never have been able to travel and learn beyond his books had it not been for all the teachers, mentors, financial aid and scholarships along the way, so he is happy to pay it forward by serving as a mentor himself.
Both of the scholarships Gonzalez received provide financial assistance to students with limited financial support, with the Benjamin Gilman specifically open to Pell grant recipients. CSUCI Study Abroad Coordinator Courtney Gross believes scholarships that enable a diverse cross section of students to study abroad are important as these students represent the U.S. when they travel to other countries.
“It’s important for other countries to see our diversity and to understand that Americans come from all kinds of backgrounds, races and ethnicities,” Gross said.
Plus, students also return to the U.S. with a broader perspective and more value in the job market, Gross said, as students often develop skills in other languages and cultures and solidify a student’s sense of identity and purpose. “Study abroad opens up our world and its possibilities,” Gross said. “Your world is not defined by a city, state or a country’s borders. That translates into what you believe your possibilities are after graduation. Your world is a million times bigger than it was, you have connections around the world, and when you travel, you have 20 different couches to surf!”