NSLI-Y is excited to honor National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month from September 15th to October 15th and recognize the achievements of Hispanic and Latinx Americans. The NSLI-Y program is spotlighting the stories of our Hispanic and Latin alumni throughout the month to celebrate. Our first profile, of alumnus Harold Peón Castro, is below.

Harold is an alumnus of the NSLI-Y 2018 Summer and 2020-2021 Academic Year programs for Chinese, and studied in Xi’an China and in Taiwan. Since completing his NSLI-Y program in Taiwan, Harold has returned to the United States and is pursuing his undergraduate degree at Harvard University.

Image of someone chopping octopus

Harold Peón Castro during NSLI-Y program

Originally from Puerto Rico, Harold notes how his Latine identity shaped his study abroad experience, as well as how his study abroad experience shaped his identity. Growing up in Puerto Rico, Harold spoke Spanish in his daily life and celebrated traditions that came from both his Hispanic roots as well as traditions from the United States. He notes that Puerto Rico was a microcosm in many ways, as nearly everyone he grew up with was Latine, Catholic, and had similar viewpoints. For this reason, he credits study abroad with broadening his horizons, and he hopes that he broadened the horizons of those he encountered on program as well, noting that “My time in China and Taiwan taught me that, just like we do in the United States, most people expect people from the United States to look and act a certain way. Being able to share my experience as a Latino, a person of color, and a US citizen, as well as how these identities intersect, was among the most rewarding aspects of my time abroad. Through conversations with locals, with my host family, and with the friends I made, I believe I made a great impression of what the Latine community stands for and how important we are in the fabric of the United States. This, in turn, made me prouder to be a Latino and engrained my identity in myself even more.”

Harold details a few other favorite memories from his study abroad experience. He began studying the language during his first program in Xi’an in 2018, and remembers being excited to be able to hold casual conversations, make dumplings with his host family, and explore pagodas and night markets. While in Taiwan, he was grateful for the opportunity to live there for an extended time, allowing him to make local friends with whom he established profound bonds. From beach days and hikes to trips to Taipei and other cities, he credits his months in Taiwan with shaping who he is today and giving him lifelong uncountable memories.

These relationships made him especially aware of the value of studying abroad. Harold notes “Regardless of international affairs and historical precedents, living abroad shows us we are way more similar to people from other nations than what we imagine. It fosters global cooperation, increases cultural awareness and understanding, and exposes us to new ways of looking at the world.” Harold had the opportunity to return to Taiwan during the summer of 2022 as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship and caught up with many of the people he met during NSLI-Y!

Outside of foreign language, Harold’s main interests lay in the sciences and he plans on going into healthcare. While he notes that this is different from many NSLI-Y participants, he is certain that the impact of study abroad is not limited to any one professional or academic path. Study abroad helped improve his understanding of cultures different from his own, and he believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves on how other people view the world in order to better understand each other. Through improving his ability to do so, he is certain that he has become a better person and will be a better professional.