April 29, 2011
Commencement is culmination of journey for former exchange student
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Fulfilling her dreams of studying abroad and earning a master's degree, Gabriela Martinez graduates Saturday from Northwest Missouri State University where she started as an exchange student.
In 2006, Martinez came to Northwest from Monterrey, Mexico as part of a study abroad program. Martinez said she came to Northwest with hopes of improving her English and it was close to family members in Washington D.C.
Martinez also had an urge to travel and explore, an interest she developed during childhood.
"I needed to work because my family didn't have a lot of money and the first thing I wanted to do with my money was travel," Martinez said. "I traveled to New York for 12 days for training at the Broadway Dance Center. After that I thought ‘If I enjoy 12 days, how fun would it be living four or five months somewhere else?'"
Although Martinez only studied at Northwest during that fall trimester of 2006, her experience left a lasting impression. It gave her the opportunity to participate in several organizations and events on campus, in addition to building close relationships with faculty, staff and fellow students. Martinez studied elementary education and participated in organizations such as the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO), the International Student Organization (ISO), the Northwest Dance Company and she worked in the Study Abroad Office.
"It was the best decision I ever made to study abroad, and I think everybody should do it," Martinez said. "You learn so much about yourself, so much about other cultures and you start valuing what you have."
In 2009, Martinez returned to Northwest to visit some of the friends she made as an exchange student. During the visit she expressed her interest in continuing her education to then president Dr. Dean Hubbard, who offered her a scholarship to help her work toward a master's degree in higher education leadership. Martinez accepted the offer and became a graduate assistant at Northwest's Horace Mann Laboratory School.
"My parents were happy and they wanted me to come back and study," Martinez said. "Very few people have that opportunity and for me it was a miracle."
As a graduate assistant, Martinez taught Spanish to children in preschool through sixth grade. She also tutored Northwest Spanish students and remained involved in several organizations on campus including the MORE program and the Graduate Council.
"The experience has opened my eyes to a lot of things, and it's been a lot of hard work and sacrifice," Martinez said. "I've learned a lot about what I can do and higher education, and I've learned that one of my passions is diversity."
After her graduation from Northwest, Martinez will return to Monterrey where she hopes to find work at her alma mater in Mexico.
"Here at Northwest, I had a family and it's going to be very hard to go back home," Martinez said. "Northwest has impacted my life forever and I'm going to miss everything. Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat, right?"
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Mark Hornickel, Media Relations Specialist
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468