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Faces of New Paltz

Jeffrey Cifuentes - International Business/Asian S

Past Faces of New Paltz
Samantha Grove
Terence Gardner
Digital Media Production

Major: International Business/Asian Studies
Hometown: Flushing, N.Y.

  • International Student Union
  • Japanese Conversation Table
  • East-West Living Learning Community, Crispell Hall

How long were you in Japan? Which experiences stand out for you?
One semester – roughly four months. I did so much over there. Thanks to the Gilman Scholarship and the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship, I got to do a lot of traveling in Japan. I climbed Mount Fuji, I traveled to Tokyo, I visited Osaka. I got to interact with the community.

What inspired you to join the East-West Living-Learning Community?
Once I was getting ready to come back to New Paltz from Japan, I decided to keep going with this globalization, getting to know people from different cultures – especially people from Asia, which is my focus. The Living-Learning Community has American students and international students from China, Japan, and other parts of Asia. We set up events, such as festivals that celebrate Chinese New Year, or Japanese festivals like White Day. We got together, cooked food, had discussions, watched movies that dealt with Asian culture. It was a good experience. It’s helped me to be more culturally aware. Studying abroad, you become more open-minded to more cultures, but the East-West Living Learning Community was a good way to open myself to the diversity right here on campus.

Why should students study abroad?
In the times we live in, people are more connected. We’re more globalized. In order to differentiate yourself after you graduate, you want to put on your resume that you studied abroad, that you’re comfortable in ambiguous situations. That’s what helped me in getting a job. I got hired by Target to be a manager at one of their stores before I even graduated. They liked that I was comfortable in such a different country. Employers are really impressed by your ability to adapt, change, and learn.

How have you benefited from the Educational Opportunity Program?
I’m really grateful for them. If it weren’t for their support, I wouldn’t be here. They really prepare you for how to act and perform in college. They want you to be leaders on campus. One of their classes, Key Issues (in the Education of Under-Represented Students), covers how to write essays and prepares you for college-level courses. It set a standard for me to perform very well in every class. Also, my EOP advisor, Clare Kelly-Barra, was the one who instilled in me the idea of studying abroad. It just wasn’t in my mind coming into New Paltz, but eventually it became very doable.

What were your first impressions of New Paltz, and how have they evolved?
At first, I didn’t know what to think. Coming from New York City – such a big environment – I was never in a really small community. But New Paltz is constantly growing and changing. It’s a small school, but it’s very resourceful. In high school, I wasn’t much of a student leader, but after coming here, I became motivated to engage more people in friendly discussion, join groups and clubs, develop myself, and hone my leadership skills to prepare myself for the future.

I have friends who go to huge universities. They don’t have a connection with professors, or other students, in these big lecture-size classrooms as much as we do here. They find it more difficult to learn, because they’re just another student in the class. Within these small classrooms at New Paltz, the professors here really take the time. If you put in the effort, they’re going to put in the effort, as well. That’s what I really like about New Paltz.

And, location-wise, it was great being an hour-and-a-half away from the city. I’m really close with my family, so it was hard for them to accept that I wasn’t going to be at home anymore. But New Paltz was a good distance away from home.

What’s been your most valuable lesson at New Paltz, outside of the classroom?
Being open-minded to everything. Coming here, and doing what I did here, was such a big change in my life. If I was talking to you in my freshman year, I wouldn’t be able to speak to you like this. I was very nervous, very shy at first. But with everything I’ve done here on campus, it’s helped me become the person I am today: more confident, more open-minded, more diverse. That’s what New Paltz has taught me.

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