The airport was quiet. Most of the bustle from end-of-season traveling had passed, but Malinda Osborn, a UW Tacoma senior, waited to board her plane. She started 2018 with an adventure, her first trip outside the United States.
Osborn describes herself as “a creature of habit,” but she wanted to expand her horizons. She spent the tail end of 2017 gearing up to study abroad in Italy for a quarter-long expedition to one of the world’s art and literary capitals, through a program called Creativity and Place: Seeing and Re-seeing Rome and Italy.
Although Osborn spent her life in Tacoma, a facet of her identity is rooted in an island across the Pacific. Her grandparents emigrated from Guam, raising their daughter, Osborn’s mother, in California. Despite a feeling of disconnection from her culture, Osborn has maintained a curiosity about her heritage. “I’m constantly trying to pursue knowledge of my own culture. I am very proud to be Chamorro,” she said, using the word that names the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, which include Guam.
Osborn always wanted to attend college, but she didn’t think it was a realistic expectation. “No one in my family had ever gone to college, she said. “I kind of wanted to break that, because I’ve never seen anyone like me pursuing that kind of education.” She met with a mentor from Students Together Empowering Personal Success (STEPS), a program that allows people to volunteer and work with elementary, middle and high school students to make higher education less intimidating.
Through this mentorship, Osborn learned how to jumpstart her college career. She connected with a mentor from UW Tacoma who was Chamorro. Seeing someone like herself succeeding in higher education gave Osborn the confidence she needed to pursue higher education. “I was really doubting myself,” she remembered. “But meeting my mentor made me feel like ‘okay, I can do this.’”
Osborn chose to attend UW Tacoma because she believed its small size and intimate professor-student relationships would serve as an opportunity for growth. “I’m a shy person, and I wanted to get out of that,” she said. “Being in a big university with a lecture hall wasn’t going to help me.”
Originally, Osborn wanted to study business. After taking a few courses, she decided to make it her minor instead, and pursue a major in communication. She currently works in the library, and worked for the Center for Equity and Inclusion (CEI) up until last fall. At the CEI, she coordinated events focused on identity. “There are so many different parts of our identity, and I really wanted to help people embrace that,” she said.
Osborn has also made strides toward understanding her own identity. Last spring, she started a club for Micronesian students. “When you’re Chamorro you don’t really see anybody like you in higher education, so I felt very alone,” she said. “I thought I’d make this club and bring other people who are Micronesian on campus together.”
Even though Osborn has already gained a great deal of experience from working at the CEI, starting a club and navigating college as a first-gen student, she wanted another challenge. After searching for a study abroad trip, she chose the Italy program because of its focus. “We did creative writing, which I’m not strong in at all,” she said. “I think it’d be good to push me as a writer to go out of my comfort zone.”
Osborn’s overseas experience was made possible in part by the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program, which provides students financial means to study abroad. She also received the Office of Global Affairs Study Abroad Scholarship, funded by Tacoma’s Bamford Foundation. Not only did this funding provide Osborn the monetary assistance to pursue education abroad, the questions posed by the applications also forced her truly to get to know herself. “Preparing to study abroad is a learning experience of its own,” she said. “If you saw my first draft versus what I turned in I don’t even know if you’d think it was the same person writing.”
When asked what her favorite moment was in Italy, Osborn quickly answered her time in Sicily. She swam in the Mediterranean Sea. Choosing the biggest lesson she learned during her study abroad wasn’t as easy. “I think I proved a lot to myself,” Osborn said. “Before leaving I was really scared, but after going I feel like there’s so much more I can do.”
Osborn graduates June 11, and says her time at UW Tacoma taught her not to shy away from unfamiliar opportunities. Whether it’s being the first in her family to attend university or traveling abroad, she has allowed her passion for personal growth to drive her future. Yet, Osborn says there is something else students can take away from her own experience with study abroad. “It’s possible, for people like me and a lot of people who don’t think they can do it, to study abroad,” she said. “There’s so much help out there.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or email@example.com