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Legend of Rocks: Student Rocks Zayda is on quite the summer trip
Photos and Story by James Hill
Technically what student Rocks Zayda is doing isn’t a vacation, but part of a study abroad experience in Chile. Zayda earned not one but two prestigious national study abroad scholarships last spring that allowed her to fly to Santiago de Chile to study for a semester at the Universidad de Andrés Bello where she is taking an introduction to Latin American Photography class taught entirely in Spanish. She was one of 36 selected from 1,650 applicants nationwide for the Fund for Education Abroad Scholarship and one of 1,000 who were given a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship through the U.S. State Department. Both scholarships are two of the largest national scholarship programs, and both are specifically interested in supporting community college students to study abroad.
In the past two years, she is the college’s second FEA awardee and 18th Gilman scholarship winner.
“When I first applied for these scholarships I figured that if I got both of them I could go, but in all honestly, I did not think it would happen,” said the 29-year-old from the studio apartment she rents in Santiago. “When I found out that I had won the FEA scholarship I was so surprised and excited. Then, after receiving the Gilman I cried from happiness and bought my plane ticket to Chile. With these scholarships I was also able to participate in a field study to the Atacama desert in northern Chile, the driest location on Earth.”
Zayda, who attends classes at the Cascade Campus, really earned this excellent opportunity. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa (two-year college honors society) with a grade-point average of 3.94 and is co-enrolled at Portland Community College and Portland State University, working on her transfer degree in order to apply for the Community Development: Transportation Program at PSU. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local zine library and letterpress studio called the Independent Publishing Resource Center, which goes into schools to teach media literacy. She also helps out at the Northwest Ecosystem Survey Team conducting surveys on a sensitive animal species.
In Chile, she is continuing her volunteer work with a local group that helps marginalized people in the community with self-publishing projects called, “Feria de Fanzines” that sponsor monthly events in and around the Chilean city.
Funds for Education Abroad awards scholarships to students who demonstrate compelling academic plans and financial need, and gives preference to applicants underrepresented in study abroad. Out of this year’s total recipients, 72 percent are first-generation college students and 53 percent attend minority-serving institutions or community colleges. The Gilman Scholarship Program aims to diversify the kinds of students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions where they go by offering awards to U.S. undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints.
Correcting a Missed Opportunity
Growing up, the Southeast Portland resident had lived with her mother and two sisters for most of her life until moving in with her Naval officer father at the age of 15. With him, she got to visit England, Scotland, Gibraltar, Germany and three years in Spain.
“We lived in poverty and the concept of going to college seemed about as attainable as going to Jupiter,” Zayda said. “I just didn’t think that that was ever going to be a part of my life.”
Living in Spain, Zayda admitted that she failed her high school Spanish class and only hung out with students from her school on the military base there. Later, when people would find out that she had lived in Spain the first thing they would always ask is, “So you speak Spanish?” and had to admit that she didn’t.
“It was embarrassing and one of the few regrets I had in my life,” she said.
Zayda traveled to Portland seven years ago from Tampa, Florida, where she had lived most of her life. Soon she discovered Portland Community College and learned about federal Pell grants to pay for her education. She immediately enrolled in classes, but, like college, the concept of studying abroad seemed reserved for ‘other people’ who were rich and went to universities.
“Not wanting to have any regrets, I started taking classes at PCC in the spring of 2014 specifically to learn Spanish and when I heard about the chance to study abroad I began researching scholarships and writing essays immediately,” she continued. “Now I can finally say with confidence that yes, I do speak Spanish.”
A Core Program
Anne Haberkern, PCC’s curriculum director and acting coordinator of the Study Abroad Program, said Zayda came to the office to explore what her options were to study in a Spanish-speaking country. With plenty of options to help earn credits toward a degree, Haberkern said staff helped Zayda identify a program in Chile that fit her needs.“Rocks had very well-defined academic and personal goals for her study abroad experience,” Haberkern said. “She also wrote a powerful personal statement for her scholarship application about her background and challenges, what she hoped to gain from her time abroad, and how she plans to give back after her return. Many of our students, like Rocks, have been awarded multiple scholarships and are able to cover all or most of the costs (including airfare, tuition, housing and meals) of studying abroad through these scholarships.
“Encouraging students to participate in study abroad and to apply for scholarships such as these really fits with PCC’s core themes of access and diversity, student success, and quality education,” she added. “Studying abroad can be a life-changing academic and personal experience, and we want PCC students to have access to that kind of experience regardless of their financial or personal circumstances.”
Living the Dream
Zayda started her journey in the most southern part of Patagonian Chile.
“This place was unlike anything I’d experienced before, wild and untouched,” Zayda marveled. “While there, I felt like I was so far away from everything, my problems included. I visited the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and fell in love with the landscape and wildlife. It was a wonderful introduction to Chile.”
Her typical day this summer has been waking up to the sound of Spanish music while getting ready for her classes. After a few moments of peace on the elevator ride down she leaves her building and enters into a sea of people milling in the street. She hops on the metro a half block away from her building and rides it to the university.
“Once I get to the República stop and step back onto the street I am greeted by the sweet smell of roasted nuts,” Zayda said. “There are other vendors all the way down the street to my school. People bring a blanket or table, stake out a spot and sell their wares daily. Here you can buy vegan burgers, hand-bound journals, scarves, fresh baked pastries, and used books among other things; usually handmade and always super cheap. Along the way there is also a kaleidoscope of street art and graffiti. There have been quite a few large-scale demonstrations for free education and the streets shout long after the marches are over.“Chile is by far my favorite country,” she added. “There is so much diversity here. The variety of landscapes, people and places are innumerable and unforgettable.”