ASU student travels abroad in pursuit of a future career, learns about family’s culture on the way

Photo of Monica Orillo in the Philippines

Senior Monica Orillo in the Philippines on a Boren Scholarship.


Arizona State University senior Monica Orillo has been tackling different parts of the world in her pursuit of a future career in international affairs. 

She is a double major in Southeast Asia studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies. Additionally, she is pursuing a minor in German and a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Not only did she expand her education to include different histories, cultures and languages from across the globe within the classroom, she took herself across the physical world as well.

Orillo studied abroad in Germany while she was in high school. She participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program for one year and was introduced to a number of other programs related to studying abroad and pursuing a career in the federal government.

As an Arizona resident, Orillo came to ASU because she recognized the opportunity to make her undergraduate studies flexible and her education experience unique.

“I chose political science because I would like to pursue a career in international affairs and I chose Southeast Asia studies because I wanted a chance to learn more about the region from an academic standpoint, since I hadn't previously learned much about the region my family came from in any formal education,” Orillo said.

The degrees offered at ASU allowed her to focus her studies on her passions and allowed her the freedom to study abroad again.

She took one semester to intern in Germany with the U.S. Department of State, but when she came back, she wanted to continue taking her education to different parts of the world.

When she studied abroad in high school, Orillo learned about Boren Scholarships and decided she wanted to apply for one when she got to college. These particular scholarships are an initiative of the National Security Education Program to fund undergraduate students to study languages that are less commonly taught in world regions critical to U.S. interests.

“I contacted the Barrett Office of National Scholarship Advisement about my interest in applying and sent my essay drafts in for review,” Orillo said. “I had an interview with them on campus and after receiving some more feedback, I sent in my application to the Boren committee. The fact that I actually received the Boren was like a dream come true; I'd had my eye set on the program for a long time.”

Orillo has spent the last academic year in the Philippines at a host university for her Boren Scholarship. She took interdisciplinary classes about Philippine art, foreign policy and Southeast Asian environmental history.

“My parents are both from the Philippines and I used this opportunity to learn more about the country's culture and history and get in touch with my family heritage,” said Orillo. “I was also able to reconnect with nearby family members and travel across the country.”

She learned about the U.S.-Philippine relationship from a new perspective while she was traveling.

“It was very interesting to see the long-standing impact of the American colonial period on the country up close; this previous connection between the U.S. and the Philippines was the basis of my Boren essay topic,” Orillo said.

She is now back in the U.S., but as she reflects on the experience, she says her biggest takeaway was learning how diverse the Philippines truly are.

“There are many different cultures in different regions within the Philippines and there are also the added cultures of the Philippine diaspora, who go abroad to the U.S., Australia, Europe, the Middle East, China or elsewhere and bring back with them unique Philippine identities,” Orillo said. “It was so interesting to see how my own Filipino American background fit into all of it.”

For students wanting to pursue studying abroad or a Boren Scholarship specifically, Orillo recommends taking advantage of the resources available here at ASU.

“I would strongly suggest reaching out to Barrett ONSA, even if you are still in the early stages of just considering the program,” Orillo said. “I was initially surprised they were a resource available to me, as I am not a Barrett student. They're very helpful in outlining the process and helping you start to brainstorm topics for the application essays.”

Orillo is set to graduate in May and will be working as a change agent at Changemaker Central in addition to being a student researcher at ASU’s Center on the Future of War during her last year as an undergraduate. Then she will begin the process of applying for jobs to fulfill the Boren national service requirement.

To learn more about the 250-plus study abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office website.

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