College had seemed out of the question for Maranda due to her family’s financial and health issues. However, the Woonsocket resident, a physics and math major at the University of Rhode Island, is paying for her own education through a variety of scholarships, grants, federal loans, and a part-time job as student manager of the Ram’s Den dining hall. Cimeno’s URI scholarships, a Centennial Scholarship and the Paul H. Conway scholarship, pay for about half of her total expenses each semester. Her job, federal loans, and grants cover the rest. Yet, this “A” student still is more than $25,000 in debt from student loans and still has another year of college left.
The opportunity to study abroad sometimes seems impossible for students like Cimeno. But thanks to a Freeman-ASIA award for the spring of 2009, she is studying in South Korea. The $5,000 award, given by the Institute of International Education, gives American undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need the ability to study abroad in Asia. While not of Asian heritage herself, Cimeno’s curiosity for other cultures, specifically Asian, would take her to South Korea.
Who would have thought that a movie Cimeno saw when she was an adolescent would help her decide where to study? The film My Sassy Girl, a 2001 South Korean romantic comedy, sparked her interest in Korean film, and that interest helped her decide to spend this semester in South Korea.
The URI student studies at Inha University in Incheon, South Korea as part of URI’s foreign exchange program. The 16-week program ends in late June.
This is Cimeno’s first time out of the country. Although she does have some familiarity with Khmer, the language of Cambodia, from reading books and volunteering at the Heng Heng Market in Providence, Cimeno has been learning the Korean language from scratch.
“I studied it a little before leaving, but now I study nearly every night. I have almost got the alphabet down, but I struggle reading it. The alphabet is fairly easy to learn, but that doesn’t mean translations come as quickly.”
Traveling alone can be a very humbling and scary experience, but one with benefits. “I hope to get a feel for traveling, and being separated from my friends and family,” Cimeno said. “I have a very independent nature, yet this is the first time I’m really stepping outside of my comfort zone. I hope this experience will make me stronger and more self-assured.”
Her trip to South Korea could also be a snapshot into her future. In addition to considering a career in nuclear health physics, Cimeno hopes to volunteer or teach in Southeast Asia after graduation by joining the Peace Corps. She would either like to teach English in a major Asian country or volunteer in a developing country.
“I imagine volunteering for the rest of my life and being content,” she said. “My life aspiration is to make a difference in the world, and my passion is Southeast Asia. If I could have both in my future I know I would be happy.”
Cimeno is enjoying her Korean experience, and was surprised by a few things about the country. “They love pizza. There are not many Western restaurants close to Inha, but there are several pizza shops,” she e-mailed. She also said that she is baffled to see mirrors all over the country.
Tom Hospod, URI’s assistant director of the Office of International Education and National Student Exchange, said that Cimeno is a role model for her peers. “Maranda has proven that the obstacles that sometimes exist in pursuing your education are surmountable. Here you have a very motivated student in a rigorous academic program who is succeeding academically, is involved in campus life, and is working a significant amount of time to finance her education,” Hospod said. “It is a tough balancing act but she is showing it is possible.”
Maranda has even taken on a lot of responsibility while studying abroad. In addition to taking 12 credits during her semester in South Korea, she has joined a Tae Kwon Do Academy and a dancing club.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said “happiness is not the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. URI student Maranda Cimeno exemplifies that statement.
Maranda Cimeno of Woonsocket poses with popular Korean cartoon character Jjang goo.