TRAVELER Even among the enthusiastic students whom UNCW English professor Paula Kamenish took to Argentina in spring 2016, Samantha Santana ’17 was a standout. Her scholarly curiosity and mature willingness to engage fully in the culture were evident throughout the two-week program, Kamenish said. The travel abroad experience was Santana’s first, and one she never thought would be possible: for two years, “home” had been a red Chevy.
“I was homeless during my sophomore and junior years” at UNCW, she said. “Studying or doing homework comfortably was nearly impossible, so instead I used to study at Morton Hall from dawn to dusk.” English professors would often stop by to chat. “I didn’t mind too much that I was homeless then, because Morton Hall became my home. The professors and students became my family.” Their encouragement and her tenacious work ethic paid off. She was awarded the Gerald S. Rosselot Scholarship from the English Department in 2015. “The scholarship really helped me through my struggles,” she noted. An English major, Santana is earning a Professional Writing Certificate while minoring in Spanish, journalism and information technology. She also maintains a busy schedule away from class, holding down two jobs and a communications internship with PPD, and is active in both the English and Spanish honor societies. In her “spare time,” she pitched a business plan for a campus safety app at the 2016 UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference. Santana credits “Dr. K.,” as she affectionately calls Kamenish, with instilling the confidence to work the trip to Argentina into her budget. The opportunity to immerse herself in another culture and stimulating literary discussions enriched her life. “As someone who is fascinated by culture and people, to see how life in Buenos Aires varied from the U.S. was purely awesome. I was able to see how fashion acted as a social marker in Buenos Aires.” She noted the stark contrast between those at the top of the social class, who were often dressed in the latest fashions, and working-class residents eking out a living selling handmade artistic wares on the very same streets. There was also plenty of time for fun. The group was able to experience the local food and even learned to tango from professional dancers who taught basic steps at a café. “It was sublime,” Santana said, although she admits being a bit embarrassed when a total stranger asked her to dance. Santana expects to graduate cum laude in May 2017 and hopes to work in the communications field, then earn a graduate degree in a related discipline. She says that her UNCW family has helped her envision a future without limits.
“People have been rooting for me every step of the way.”
– Tricia Vance
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