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Destination Success: Kelly Perez

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Kelly Perez (far right) smiles for the camera with a Buddhist monk and a fellow Gateway Scholar.
image of student
Kelly Perez (far right) and Gregory Vincent (far left) smiles for the camera with a Buddhist monk and a fellow Gateway Scholar.

In 2013, the DDCE and UT’s Study Abroad Office launched a Maymester program in Beijing that gives students from diverse backgrounds a world of experience—in academics, the working world and community service.  Now a signature program within the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, the Beijing Maymester course continues to offer a trip of a lifetime to many Longhorns.  We caught up with some alumni to learn more about the program, Social Entrepreneurship in the U.S. and China, and how they benefited from their adventures abroad.

Name: Kelly Perez  (B.A., Social Work ’15)

Activities: Project volunteer, LCAE; Gateway Scholars; Gateway Mentor Program; student assistant, Student Organization Center; orientation adviser, Office of the Dean of Students; IE Pre-Graduate Intern and Kuhn Scholar

Adventure bound… Perez embarked on her journey with the goal of broadening her world view and coming into her own as an adult. “I looked forward to experiencing new things and learning to be more independent. I also felt comforted by the thought of being surrounded with Gateway staff in Beijing. I trust and love many of them so I knew I was in good hands.”

Connecting by disconnecting…Her biggest challenge abroad? Navigating a foreign environment without her phone. Without the aid of her trusty GPS app, she had to stop and ask for directions while navigating a subway system for the first time in her life. “It made me realize how isolating technology can be. I had some exciting adventures that wouldn’t have happened if I followed my GPS around instead of engaging with locals and asking  where to go and what to do for fun.”

Coming into her own…“It took Beijing for me to truly believe that I can make it anywhere. I now carry that confidence with me.  It’s comforting and encouraging to know I can pack up my suitcase and be successful no matter what!”

Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes…“I see the world as a much friendlier place. China’s locals were helpful and friendly. Even other foreigners wanted to chat and get to know me. Different cultures are much less intimidating to me now.”

Memories to last a lifetime… “I will never forget spending a night in a rural village outside of Beijing. Our driver was blasting Chinese music while driving his van on the side of a mountain. It was exhilarating!  The village’s food was authentic, delicious and somehow reminded me of my mother’s cooking. The next morning, we followed an 80-year-old man up a three-mile hike to the highest point of the Great Wall. The view was so worth it! We also stayed up all of that night playing games and enjoying each other’s company.”

Delving into the field…Her research paper on social entrepreneurship in Beijing proved to be a big undertaking, but she followed through and discovered some hidden strengths. “I think the rigor of the assignment really prepared me for my senior year as a social work major where all my classes required I complete research and lengthy papers!”

Life after UT…After leaving the Forty Acres, Perez embarked on a new adventure: Teach for America!  She is currently teaching in Dallas and plans to start her own nonprofit one day.