Maricruz Garcia Garibay, a Cal State Fullerton psychology major, found herself the only native Spanish speaker on a recent study abroad trip to Madrid, Spain. She quickly assumed the role of translator and cultural liaison for the group.
“Many of the Spanish locals were curious about life and politics in the United States, and I had to navigate the critical role of delivering information in a way that they understood,” she said. “Acting as an interpreter illustrated to me the importance of being a cultural ambassador and representative of the U.S.”
For her commitment to promoting cross-cultural understanding, the graduating senior is the recipient of the university’s 2018 International Experiences and Global Engagement Award.
A first-generation college student involved in such activities as the Santa Ana and East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day parades, Garibay jumped at the opportunity to learn firsthand about Spanish life and culture through a three-week program offered by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“I decided to participate in the study abroad program in Madrid because the setting has close ties to my family ancestry,” she said. “Being in Madrid allowed me to further explore my Spanish culture through the food I ate, the places I encountered and especially the interactions I had with locals.”
The program was led by Juan Carlos Gallego, professor of modern languages and literatures, who commended Garibay’s dedication to learning.
“Maricruz was enthusiastic and curious about her study abroad experience, and has a friendly personality that is well-suited for an ambassador for global experiences,” said Gallego. “Her bilingualism and multiculturalism will serve her well.”
An aspiring school psychologist, Garibay said the experience already has improved her interpersonal communication skills in her role as a paraprofessional at a charter school in Santa Ana.
“I find myself being more cognizant of students’ facial expressions and body language to see if they understand what I am explaining,” said Garibay. “In cases where my students don’t understand, I quickly adapt to find another ways of explaining, as I did while translating abroad.”
Garibay hopes her educational journey will inspire the youth she works with to pursue their own dreams.
“As a lifelong learner, I am constantly looking for ways to empower my students to see higher education as an option because many of them come from low socioeconomic and traditionally underserved populations,” said Garibay. “I talk to my students about how I was born and raised in the same community as them, and I make it a priority to expose them to my experiences in school and abroad.”
Recently, Garibay shared a presentation about her study abroad experience with a group of third-grade students. “At the end of my presentation, multiple students came up to me and asked what they need to do in school so they can go, too,” said Garibay. “I recall one student in particular saying, ‘Un día yo voy a estudiar en Europa (One day I will study in Europe).'”