Student Shares Study Abroad Experiences with High Schoolers
June 1, 2017
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Crystal Ocampo-Fernandez ’18 spent the first part of her summer
break going back to school.
Over two days in May, Ocampo-Fernandez made seven presentations on her semester studying
in Russia to nearly 200 students at Argo Community High School, her alma mater, in
Summit, Ill. An International Studies major at Illinois Wesleyan, she spent the fall 2016 semester in St. Petersburg, Russia,
thanks in part to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International
Scholarship Program. Gilman Scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward study abroad
or internship program costs. The program offers grants for U.S. citizen undergraduate
students of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or internships abroad,
gaining a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies
— making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within government and the
Ocampo-Fernandez said her family and her high school advisor, Cynthia Haack, played
critical roles in her successful application to college. Ocampo-Fernandez said she
wanted to share her insight of the importance of going to college, taking opportunities
and studying abroad with students at Argo Community High, where 60 percent of students
are low income, according to the Illinois Report Card.
In each presentation, Ocampo-Fernandez displayed mementos from her trip, showed dozens
of photos and shared anecdotes about her IWU experiences, both on campus and in Russia.
“I decided to take the leap of going to college but especially studying abroad,” she
told the students. She spoke of finding support in friends, family and professors
in her first years at IWU, and the importance of getting past the ‘I’m too proud or
scared to ask for help’ phase as a first-generation college student. She said Argo
students asked meaningful questions, but one especially touched her.
“In one of the honors courses, a very shy, overwhelmed young boy worriedly asked,
‘so I don’t have to have straight As to got to college?’ and I told him that 4.0 GPAs
were great, but were absolutely not necessary to go to college and become successful,”
Ocampo-Fernandez recalled. “I reassured him that when the time came, there were several
colleges and universities that would happily offer him a place at their institutions.”
At Illinois Wesleyan Ocampo-Fernandez has served as student representative to the
University’s Curriculum Council; student representative on several search committees;
Student Senate Civic Engagement Commissioner; president and secretary of the Spanish
and Latino Student Association; student coordinator for the Action Research Center;
Residential Community Advisor for Munsell Hall and Residential Assistant for Dodds
Several Illinois Wesleyan students have received Gilman International Scholarships
since its inception more than 15 years ago. International Studies major Ayrren Calhoun
of Homewood, Ill., is the most recent. She has been awarded the Gilman Scholarship
for 2017 and will also study in Russia.