Eager to learn what the world has to offer, Margarita Rentis embarked on a global journey at FIU.
Rentis, who is graduating this semester, was accepted last summer to the Critical Language Scholarship program, an intensive overseas language and cultural immersion program offered by the State Department. She is the first FIU student to be chosen to study Japanese culture. The highly competitive scholarship allowed her to continue her already extensive study of the language in Japan.
Prior to being awarded the Critical Language Scholarship, Rentis studied at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka in 2015 and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto in 2016. She taught English at a middle school in Osaka, which she says opened her eyes to the importance of intercultural communication.
Rentis learned about the scholarship program during a Global Learning Medallion advising session with program manager Eric Feldman. Feldman informed her about the various opportunities through the U.S. State Department, and put her in contact with FIU’s diplomat-in-residence. Rentis was apprehensive about applying. She recalls hearing classmates were being rejected for the program.
“If my classmates with astounding resumes didn’t get accepted, there was no way I would get accepted,” she says.
“It did not take a long time to find out that Margi was a smart and dedicated student who was very serious about learning Japanese,” said Naoko Komura senior instructor of Japanese. “Also she has a strong mind and puts all her efforts toward mastering Japanese in order to reach her lofty goals.”
As part of the program, Rentis spent two months in Shiga, further developing her Japanese language skills, even pledging not to speak English for the duration of the program. For Rentis, what made this program unique from study abroad experiences was living with a host family. It allowed her to learn the day-to-day routines of Japanese families.
Her fondest memory was waking up early in the morning and watching her host grandmother and grandfather practice Radio Taisō (radio calisthenics) to help them maintain good health. Coincidentally, Rentis had already been exposed to this exercise. Her East Asian Culture professor at FIU began class with it. By the end of her stay, Rentis was joining in on the morning routine.
Unfortunately, Rentis’ last trip to Japan ended on a sour note. Her mother suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, landing her in the hospital for three months. When Rentis arrived from Japan, she went straight to the hospital, and stayed by her mother’s side for a week.
Rentis quit her job as FIU’s Campus Life photographer and Japanese tutor. She contemplated putting off school for a semester, but knew that her mother would want her to finish her degree. Her father pushed her to continue her education and build a future for herself.
“When I came back, she was in her most critical stage,” Rentis says. “It was hard to focus on my everyday life.”
But challenges are not new to the scholar. In 2012, Rentis left her home country of Greece as a result of the economic crisis.
“The whole atmosphere in the country was tense, and you could sense it,” she says.
While the Rentis family was not as severely affected as others in Greece, Rentis and her mother fit everything they could in four suitcases, and immigrated to the United States. In August 2013, she began taking classes at FIU, and it was during her sophomore year that she developed an interest in East Asian culture.
“Initially, I wanted to learn Japanese, to learn more about East Asia as a whole. Historically, they’re all connected and understanding their relationship gives insight,” Rentis says.
Taking her father’s advice, Rentis pushes forward despite the challenges she faces. In her final semester at FIU, she interned with BBC Worldwide’s Creative Services Division. After graduation, she will start a marketing internship in London with the Libra Group, an international business group.
Rentis speaks four languages fluently. She is graduating with a bachelor’s in international business administration, a bachelor’s in Japanese studies – and a 3.9 GPA. Rentis’ career goal is to combine her interests in business and Asian studies by working for a hospitality company with a presence in Asia.
—Additional reporting by Eric Feldman.