Going places she never imagined: KC Scholar Edith Ramirez-Salazar

Within the past year, Edith Ramírez-Salazar, a KC Scholar and Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship recipient, has traveled to three different continents outside of North America and explored a plethora of countries.

Last summer, Edith’s journey began with a faculty-led trip to Central Asia, where she spent 15 days in Kyrgyzstan. Then, she enjoyed her time scoping out European countries abroad in the U.K. during the fall. She didn’t stop there. Winter break rolled around, and Edith decided to wrap up her collegiate travels with another study abroad trip to Costa Rica. 

After hearing of Edith’s experiences, some may wonder how much these trips racked up in expenses. However, because Edith was strategic with the awards and scholarships she earned, she was able to make her own dreams come true. 

Being a KC Scholar, Edith took part in cohort meetings with the Center for Academic Success & Excellence during her first two years at MU. One meeting in particular, caught her attention. 

“Sophomore year, [Student Service Coordinator] Ana-Maria Fernandez gave a presentation on studying abroad,” Edith said. “I’ve always wanted to study abroad before going to college, but I didn’t start working towards it until Ana-Maria gave her study abroad presentation. The next week I had scheduled an appointment with the study abroad office…CASE really helped me navigate the study abroad process, and they helped me understand that there is financial aid out there, that isn’t just inside of Mizzou, that would be willing to support me.”

Edith’s journey to MU started with her anxiously waiting for an email. It was her junior year of high school and a moment she will never forget.  

“I get the notification,” Edith said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I really earned this.’ It was the first big thing that I won and that I really worked for.” 

It was the KC Scholars Program. This opened up the opportunity to Edith’s future success. As their mission is to increase postsecondary education attainment for individuals in the Kansas City area, Edith receiving this scholarship in the first year it was established meant she could attend MU without taking out student loans. The scholarship is $10,000 per year for up to five years. 

During her sophomore year at MU, Edith chose to apply for the Gilman scholarship after Fernandez’s persistent efforts in aiding her. When she discovered she earned this scholarship, as well, she had a moment of pause to appreciate the position she was in, allowing any feelings of self-doubt to wash away. Edith stepped back and saw the greater significance of her experiences. 

“I felt very privileged,” Edith said. “Getting into college and getting the Gilman– it made me realize that it’s not impossible for first-generation students to get prestigious awards. We might have to work harder for it, and I think one con of it is that you usually have to write about bad experiences in order to get them to really sympathize with you. But at the same time, once you get that award, it kind of makes it feel like it was all worth it because it sends a ‘green flag’ to other first-gen students that ‘you can do it as well.’”

While her parents were ecstatic to learn of their daughter’s achievements, they were unsure of the underlying costs at first. Before the scholarships came into the picture, Edith’s family, and even Edith herself, believed they would have to take out huge loans for higher education. 

Edith’s parents, though, have understood the importance of hard work before even immigrating to the U.S. from San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

“I feel like growing up their families were economically challenged,” Edith said. “They grew up in Mexico, so their upbringing was way different.” 

For Edith, being the first person in her family to attend college came with a few learning curves since every experience was unfamiliar.

“It really sucks because I know, at least in the Latin community, everyone sees Latin people as hard workers, as if that’s all they have to offer,” Edith said. “It’s kind of like a double-edged sword because it can be seen as a compliment, but it’s also seen as ‘Oh, they’re Latin and they’re going to be a very hard worker.’”

On the other hand, she is thankful for what her parents taught her from a young age. 

“Without my parents instilling that hard work ethic in me, I would not have gone as far or worked as hard on scholarship essays and applying for Gilman,” Edith said. 

These scholarships didn’t mark the end of Edith’s achievements, but instead represented the beginning. Edith’s careful calculations of scholarships and awards during her time at MU put her in the position to fulfill her traveling dreams. In addition, earning another study abroad scholarship in the College of Arts & Science allowed her to afford her first trip to Kyrgyzstan. 

“I think it’s the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to, and it’s not very well known,” Edith said. “We went horseback riding in the mountains, it was really nice. The people, the locals there, not many people speak English. I was just using Google Translate everywhere I went, but everyone was so nice to me. They didn’t seem to laugh at me or anything. The people are the most welcoming people I have ever met.”

Following this, she utilized her award money for 2021-2022 to have a semester-long study aboard experience in the U.K. In particular, Edith appreciated the transportation system in Europe, which provided her the ability to visit other countries.

“It was 15 pounds to go to Poland,” Edith said. “We also got an affordable ticket to go to France. And I bought another 20-pound ticket to Italy. Just being there and like being able to travel a lot because everything was really close, that’s a big takeaway from Lancaster.”

Edith expanded her global experiences even further. Early in January, before the spring semester started, Edith earned three credits in Costa Rica using a partial amount of this semester’s scholarship money. 

“I think she is methodical,” Fernandez said. “She researches what she is interested in to gain enough information before pursing the plan.” 

Fernandez is also confident Edith will find success wherever she ends up in the world when she graduates this May because of her determination and passion for taking advantage of the opportunities before her.

Although her long-term plans are not yet solidified, Edith will be in a two-year program called Teach for America in a different state in the U.S. post-graduation. Also, she is in the process of getting her TEFL Certification to teach English abroad. 

“I really am interested in teaching English in Dubai, and that specific country wants to have the person have a master’s or two years of teaching experience,” Edith said. “Because I really want to teach there, Teach for America is a really good stepping stone to doing that.” 

When Edith reaches her graduation ceremony, her undergraduate degree will contain two majors in political science and sociology with a minor in criminal justice, a multicultural certificate and a certification in addiction sciences. For Edith, who grew up as a child to immigrants, she is interested in pursing immigration law as a career.

“When the 2016 election came along, that’s when I really started getting into politics,” Edith said. “The issues were really hitting home, in terms of immigration, and the community I grew up in is predominantly immigrant. That’s what really motivated me to get involved in politics and start volunteering, distributing pamphlets and stuff.”

Even with uncertainty in Edith’s future, she is confident that exploring the world and embracing new cultures will be a part of her journey. 

“I think it goes back to being a first-generation student and how my parents weren’t able to go to college,” Edith said. “I’m basically doing things that people I know aren’t able to do because either they didn’t believe in themselves or didn’t believe that they could afford it. I think that’s a big motivator of mine because I feel like any successes that I have will help motivate other first-gen students to dream bigger and push themselves.”