WYOMISSING, Pa. — Opportunities to study or intern abroad impact people’s lives in profound ways. Despite the growing demand for a more globally competent workforce, however, less than 2 percent of all students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education take part in such experiences. Even fewer are members of underserved populations, including first-generation college students, like Joshua Flores, a rising Penn State Berks junior.
Flores is the first Penn State Berks student to be awarded and to take part in the Cultural Vistas Fellowship, a fully-funded summer internship program designed for students for whom such international opportunities might otherwise be out of reach. He is among a group of 15 students spending their summers completing professional internships and experiencing everyday life in Argentina, Hong Kong and Germany.
Flores spent this summer in Buenos Aires interning at Subir al Sur, an organization that helps foreign volunteers find work related to educating and helping children in Buenos Aires.
A resident of the City of Reading, Flores’ parents migrated from Mexico 20 years ago. He said he grew up hearing stories of struggle and human-rights violations and inevitably developed an interest in learning more about the world and how it deals with these challenges. This interest brought him to Penn State Berks, where he is a major in the Global Studies program.
As a first-generation college student, Flores said he understands the value of education and its impact on human lives and communities, and wants to help children achieve their full potential through education, learning and development.
“When I think of my future, I envision dedicating myself to enabling communities to thrive and prosper,” he stated. He began volunteering to mentor junior high school students in the Reading School District to introduce them to the possibilities of higher education through the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP).
Flores said he realized early on during his volunteer work that motivation comes from within. It was actually his stint as a volunteer tennis coach that taught him this lesson.
“While coaching tennis, I noticed that forcing someone to change the grip on their racquet would only change it in that instance, but teaching them why it’s important to hold it in a certain way leads to better forehands and backhands," he explained.
These experiences and strong determination to volunteer helped Flores to receive the Cultural Vistas Fellowship.
This was Flores’ first experience working in the field. In many ways, he said, it was an eye-opening experience. He witnessed on-the-ground realities, the challenges that other parts of the world often face, and how volunteer efforts can help make a difference.
“Argentina has major human-rights violations and challenges but the way it answers them is what’s most inspiring about this country," he said. "There is a lot to learn from that.”
In addition to becoming more confident, self-reliant and aware of the world around him, Flores also said he learned how important it is to talk to people and actually hear what their thoughts and feelings are about subjects that are affecting their nation.
“Meeting and conversing with locals expanded my world view in a way nothing else can. It’s entirely different from reading books or watching the news. I am grateful to Cultural Vistas for this experience that has helped me connect with my Latin American roots and understand the world better.”
This fall, Flores is returning to Penn State Berks with a stronger resolve to help communities and address global challenges. He said he wants to dig deeper into Latin American history to see how countries that face conflict can rise and work through their problems. His plans align with the Cultural Vistas Fellowship requirement of a "Fellows in Service" project.
Flores said he envisions developing a student think-tank at Penn State Berks. He hopes to encourage fellow students to think about tackling international issues through discourse.
“The idea is to establish a think tank led by students, giving them an opportunity to think about global challenges and possible solutions and the courage to voice their ideas," he said.
About Cultural Vistas
Founded in 1963, Cultural Vistas is a nonprofit exchange organization promoting global understanding and collaboration among individuals and institutions. It develops international professional experiences that help to create more informed, skilled and engaged citizens. Every year its 30-plus, unique exchange programs reach thousands of individuals and organizations in the U.S. and more than 130 countries around the world.