SHANIK VASQUEZ’S interest in things Japanese began at 12 with “Naruto,” a Japanese anime (animated) television series about an adolescent ninja; next came manga comic books and Japanese pop music. Krystal Garcia’s own pen and ink drawing, well, drew her in, as anime and manga became influences.
Both women, friends and rising seniors at Lehman College, won Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships to study at Sugiyama Jogakuen University in Nagoya, Japan, in Fall 2015.
Congress funds these competitive one- and two-semester study-abroad scholarships, which the State Department awards three times a year. The program’s goals include expanding the number of speakers of foreign languages and giving the types of students who traditionally do not get to study abroad a chance to encounter the broader world.
For Summer 2016, CUNY students won 21 Gilmans, the most of any institution on the East Coast; CUNY also led the region in Spring 2016 (with 14) and Fall 2015 (with 13). In the five years between 2011 and 2015, CUNY students captured a total of 138 Gilmans. The scholarships generally are worth up to $5,000, but students studying critically needed languages and their variants – Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Turkic, Persian, Indic, Korean, Russian, and Swahili – are eligible for up to $3,000 more.
Garcia, an art major born in the Dominican Republic, joked that her first trip abroad was coming to the Bronx when she was 10. Though she studied Japanese at Lehman for two years, she admits that her conversational skills were “pretty low” when she arrived in Japan. “I improved a lot, especially considering the short amount of time I was there.”
Vasquez, a Bronx native, says: “People ask if I experienced culture shock. Actually, not that much, because I knew what to expect and they’re very friendly people. As a foreigner, you do get some stares, but it comes with being an obvious outsider.”
Majoring in media communications and minoring in Japanese, Vasquez says her future career “depends on where I work and the company. Maybe something international.”
Garcia would like to work in computer-generated animation – perhaps even veering toward anime. “Seeing the art in Nagoya was wonderful. We went to a lot of historical places, museums and castles,” she says.
She sees a Japanese influence on her recent artwork. “My drawing style has changed since I’ve been there. I’m using new colors and vibrant style.”