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Ciara Perez has traveled more miles and been to more places than most EKU students or, frankly, most people her age. From a semester studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand and visiting countries like China, India, and Vietnam, to several family visits in Mexico, to studying abroad in Granada, Spain and traveling through Europe and parts of Africa, Perez is accustomed to being overseas. A May 2018 EKU graduate with a degree in Globalization and International Affairs, at just 22 she’s already a world traveler.

An elephant sprays Ciara Perez

Her next trip in January, a ten-month grant to Guatemala as an English Teaching Assistant, will be different though. She’ll be representing EKU as a Fulbright Scholar, the first student from the university in three years.

“When composing my essays for the application, I really wanted to emphasize my bicultural background and sense of dual identity. I used it as a means to stand out in a competitive pool of applicants” Perez said. “When I got the finalist email, I couldn’t believe that I really did it!”

A Mexican-American, Perez was raised both biculturally and bilingually in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The goal in Guatemala is to help the indigenous people better navigate living in a society that shifts between Mayan dialects and the Spanish language.

“I want to create bonds with the local people and experience their culture,” Perez said. “My travels abroad have allowed me to appreciate people's’ differences. You can’t learn from a book how a society works, or what traditions mean. You have to go there and live within it.”

While traveling in Asia, she saw extreme poverty for the first time. It was that experience and her Latina heritage that shaped her desire to bring education and opportunity to those who need it.

“English literacy is a gateway to academic and economic opportunities,” Perez said. “Many of the world’s greatest universities are in English-speaking cities. I’m privileged to a quality education simply for being a native English speaker, and I’m going to Guatemala to ensure that others have the tools to pursue the same education.”

Dr. Minh Nguyen, associate director of the Honors Program and scholarship coordinator, said Perez is unique in her pursuit of service and opportunity.

“She’s highly motivated, and the best part about it is it is so genuine,” Nguyen said. “She’s already a great ambassador for EKU, and her experience abroad will help her be successful in Guatemala as a teacher.”

Once she’s back from Guatemala, Perez plans on pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs with the goal of becoming a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State. It was this goal that drove Perez to apply for a Fulbright in the first place.

“I love to travel and bridge cultural boundaries. I can’t wait to begin a career that allows me to experience cultures, customs and people of different nations while serving public interests abroad,” Perez said.

Ciara Perez in her cap and gown.