Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), recognizes the histories, cultures and contributions of communities that share a common language, originating from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. We’ve asked School of Environmental and Biological Sciences alumna Michelle Arias (SEBS’18) to share about herself and her experience at the school. As a SEBS student, Arias participated in study abroad programs through the SEBS Office of International Programs, including further travel upon graduation through a Fulbright grant.
Q: Please share a little about your heritage and your major and international studies at SEBS. How does the 2020 theme of Hispanic Heritage Month, “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future” apply to your life?
A: I started my undergraduate career like many first-generation students, eager to start this new journey but I was unsure of what lay ahead. In the beginning, I felt alone in my experience, but my mindset changed when I found my community with Student Support Services, as well as other student programs such as Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program and Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program. These programs helped shaped my undergraduate career, from discovering recreational activities to helping me decide my major, Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources.
With the help of these student programs and SEBS International Program, I was able to achieve one of my personal goals twice, which was to study abroad. The summer of my Junior year, I was given the opportunity to travel to Indonesia and study wild orangutans at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Project camp. This program gave me the chance to gain first-hand experiences in orangutan conservation efforts by observing orangutan behavior in and out of the wild. My second study abroad experience was during the winter of my Senior year. I traveled to Belize to study tropical wildlife ecology, but this experience also introduced me to new topics such as global health studies involving wildlife. These international experiences have only driven me to continue my international journey by living abroad in Brazil as an English Teaching Assistant and potentially furthering my education abroad.
This year’s theme, “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past and Embrace the Future”, hits close to home. Taking pride of my heritage and who I am, is something my parents have always instilled in me from a young age. I never felt ashamed to speak my native language in public nor felt the need to hide my culture to fit in. Instead, I was happy to be bilingual and glad that I was able to use my Ecuadorian and Dominican heritage to connect with many people from similar and different backgrounds. My dual heritage combined with my international experiences have given me the skillset to connect with people from all around the world and helped encourage me to learn Portuguese to further diversify myself. My diverse background and experiences help me in any challenge that I face and are taken with me everywhere I go. I am proud of my Hispanic heritage and I am glad I can share aspects of my heritage with everyone I meet.