Student reporter Irina Liberman '06 caught up with junior Courtney M. Centeno '07, this year's recipient of the Karen Snyder Sullivan Memorial Travel Award to discuss her MHC experience and travel plans. The award provides assistance for a student who has not previously traveled abroad to plan a trip that satisfies her curiosity and heightens her awareness of other cultures. Centeno will be visiting the Philippines.
What led you to Mount Holyoke?
I am from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, which is only about 25 minutes away from campus. I knew of Mount Holyoke because I [participated in] the community riding program in the Equestrian Center throughout my years in high school. At first, I didn't think to apply to Mount Holyoke: I didn't want to be so close to home, and I thought I wanted to go to a big coed party school. But as I was going through the college application process I realized that Mount Holyoke is a great school, and something told me that it would do great things for me.
Have you always wanted to travel?
I have never traveled anywhere outside of New England. My mom grew up in Cape Cod, and my father was born in the Philippines but came to the United States when he was about 8. Traveling wasn't something I grew up with. What really got me interested in traveling was the experience I had this past summer working at a summer camp in Maine. It was such a huge deal for me to leave home for the summer, and Maine seemed so far away to me. But when I got there I worked with international students who were in the middle of traveling the world! Making friends with them and listening to their stories really opened my eyes--I felt I needed to do it myself.
How did you find out about the award?
It was a coincidence: I saw the flyer in the elevator, and the information session happened to be that night so I went to it. I really felt this award was for me--so I put my application together to travel to the Philippines--the country where my father is from, where part of my family still lives.
How did you plan your trip?
Part of the application was to put together an itinerary, so I did some research to see where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. I also contacted a cousin who lives in the Philippines who I had never spoken to before and who I am now friends with. He knew all the exciting places to go--waterfalls, hikes, beaches. I am leaving May 23, and I come back August 3. This scholarship gives me the freedom to plan everything myself--which is both amazing and intimidating for someone who has never traveled before.
Anything in particular that you want to see?
I want to see the old villages and all the touristy spots. There is this place called the Chocolate Hills, which are those really, really round hills with the grass so dried-out that it is brown, and when the sun sets on them they look like chocolate drops. I want to see places I've seen pictures of and read about--the waterfalls, the volcanoes. At the same time I really want to stay in a small village and see what a typical lifestyle is like in the Philippines.
What are you most concerned about?
Everything! Same things I am excited for. The plane ride, the weather, and the culture shock. My grandfather says it is going to be a lot different there. At the same time I think it will probably be harder for me coming back. It is a third-world country and it is so poor, but at the same time it is so beautiful and people lead such simple lives. They don't expect much, and everybody is so happy and they appreciate the beauty of their country. I feel coming back to a completely different life and everyday complaints and struggles will be hard.
Were you confident you were going to get this award?
After attending the information session I was really nervous. I realized I am applying against other Mount Holyoke students. Students here have the reputation for working really hard for what we want, so I knew my competition was really tough. But all I really had to do is put my heart in it. I never quite wanted anything so badly. I think when I come back I am going to give back to Mount Holyoke for giving me this opportunity, allowing me to see that I can really do it for myself. Because I did do it myself, it wasn't just handed to me. That was the best part of it--that it was my work that is being rewarded.
Will this trip benefit your overall Mount Holyoke experience?
I see a lot of doors opening up for me. I am a film minor, and I am very much interested in documentary film, so I am going to bring a camera over with me when I go and make a documentary. I am also taking a journalism class this semester and my professor was showing me how to pitch an article. Being a travel writer would be amazing.