Computer science major Chany Peguero Peña '14, of Boston, has been fascinated by the culture, history, and cuisine of Japan since learning about the country in middle school. At UMass Dartmouth, she followed her enthusiasm with introductory courses in Japanese language and civilization.
Chany took a natural next step: study abroad in Japan. And then another step: an internship in Tokyo. Along the way, she worked with UMass Dartmouth faculty and staff to create rewarding international experiences.
Study abroad in Japan
Chany worked with the staff at the Center for International Programs to explore her options for study abroad. Through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), she discovered Sophia University in Tokyo, one of Japan’s leading private universities.
To help finance her stay, Chany applied for scholarships both on campus and beyond. She received a Walsh Scholarship from UMass Dartmouth and a Gilman International Scholarship.
"I want to mention the Gilman Scholarship because it’s for students who receive federal Pell grants," Chany said. "Students who are on financial aid might think they can’t study abroad—but there are ways to make it happen."
At Sophia, Chany opted to fulfill some of her elective requirements, taking Japanese II and Intro to Japanese Sociology.
The exchange program encouraged visiting students to make the most of their stay through field trips in Tokyo and across Japan. "I did a lot of exploring."
CIEE also placed Chany with a host family in Tokyo.
"I studied Japanese in school, but I learned even more at home. My host mother didn’t speak English, so she and I would translate back and forth every day."
Chany completed her study abroad experience with many memories: the beauty of natural and manmade landmarks, the kindness of her “family” and friends, the charm of Japanese traditions—even the hectic pace of life in Tokyo.
She knew she would return.
Internship mission: return to Japan
Chany began her "internship mission" with help from Jane Staples, internship director for the Career Development Center. She applied to Intrax, a company that offers educational and internship placements.
Students who are on financial aid might think they can’t study abroad—but there are ways to make it happen.
"The internship definitely helped me develop my skills and improved my marketability. It was a great experience, both for my career and to deepen my knowledge of Japanese culture."
It's no surprise that returning to Japan—once again—is part of Chany's plan for her future, whether she searches for positions in information technology fields or as an instructor of English.
For now, however, her top priority is graduation: "I'll be the first person in my family to graduate from college."
Encouragement and achievement
Chany's achievements come with a deep appreciation for the assistance she received from College Now, UMass Dartmouth's alternative admissions program. Staff and peer counselors provide guidance to students as they make their way through the university. As a freshman, Chany needed it.
"My grandfather became very sick, and as the oldest child in the family, I was responsible for taking him to doctor's appointments, traveling back and forth between UMass Dartmouth and Boston," she said. "Then, near the end of the fall semester, my grandfather passed away, and I lost my focus on school."
College Now provided the encouragement Chany needed: "I made Dean's List my spring semester. I’m very thankful for that second chance."
Since then, Chany has served as a College Now peer counselor, assisting new students. Interspersed with tips on study habits and time management, she encourages them to consider expanding their horizons through study abroad and international internships.
And—no doubt—she shares stories about her own adventures in Japan.