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International News | July 28, 2021

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Retracing Her Japanese Cultural Heritage

Retracing Her Japanese Cultural Heritage

Gilman Scholarship Winner Stella Yuan

Stella Yuan, International Studies, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, University of Colorado Denver
BS, Spring 2013

Growing up in Colorado, Stella Yuan experienced not only American culture, but also the cultural influences of her family’s Japanese heritage. Speaking Japanese with her family members was an everyday conversational practice; but she still wished to learn even more about the country, the people, and the complex written system of the language.  To accomplish this, Yuan decided to break free from her comfort zone in Denver, and pursue Japanese linguistic studies in the busy capital city of Tokyo, Japan.

An International Studies major focusing on Asia studies, Yuan applied for and received the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. She was helped by the CU Denver Office of Global Education and the scholarship office. The offices collaborate in support of students’ applications for a variety of study abroad scholarships; these include scholarships for students from under-represented backgrounds.

In the fall of 2012, Yuan stepped off the plane and began a semester-long study abroad program in Tokyo at the Temple University campus. “Studying abroad changes your perspective,” said Yuan. “When you physically experience a new culture, it opens your mind—even if you thought you were open-minded before.”

Studying abroad in this part of the world offered Yuan the invaluable cultural and linguistic immersion she needed for her major. Along with participating in Japanese language courses, Yuan had opportunities to explore her creative side by experiencing Japan through the photographic lens.  Taking a photography course encouraged her sense of independence as she explored the city and learned more about the distinct elements of Japanese aesthetic culture. Her favorite photographic subjects included the beautifully designed Japanese gardens scattered throughout the city, and the juxtaposition of ancient Shinto temples with modern high-rise buildings.

During her semester program, Yuan was able to go on weekend excursions to the city of Nara, which is famous for its urban domesticated deer parks, and to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Kyoto represented a special place to Yuan’s family; her father was born there, and her grandfather was a Buddhist monk in the old capital city.

Spending a semester abroad motivated Yuan to focus in on her academic and career goals, while allowing her the freedom to experience authentic Japanese cultural immersion. Returning to classes at CU Denver in the spring, Yuan incorporated her acquired knowledge and perspectives from abroad, which greatly enhanced her academic performance. Her refined knowledge and speaking and writing skills in Japanese prepared her for a future goal: that of returning to Japan to pursue an international career.

Yuan interned at the Japan America Society of Colorado, in the World Trade Center, and continues to work on projects that encourage Japanese/American intercultural relations within the community of Denver.


To learn more about study abroad programs and scholarships, visit online: