The University of San Diego’s Class of 2014 graduated in late May, but Inside USD is extending the celebration this summer with a series of feature stories highlighting some of our notable graduates.
Coming from a travel-loving family, having a solid study abroad program was key. Travel educates a person through real-world experience, new languages, new culture and more. Particular to Gentile, her choice narrowed to two choices: stay and attend college in her home state of Colorado or leave a comfort zone and attend the University of San Diego.
“It was between USD and University of Denver, but I really wanted to go where I could be separate from my family and have a chance to kind of find myself,” Gentile said. “I’m lucky to have a close-knit family, but I was afraid if I remained (in Colorado) I’d stay too dependent and too involved in the same place to want to leave. I visited other schools, but when I did, I’d think about USD. That’s how I knew where I wanted to go.”
Gentile liked USD’s undergraduate study abroad program, which at the time was just beginning to earn its national reputation. The university had opened its one-stop International Center in 2007. The Institute for International Education has, since 2009, ranked USD among the top three doctorate institutions for undergraduate study abroad participation percentage. There is a healthy international student population, allowing for students to interact and gain important cultural awareness. That the international component was present on and away from campus, Gentile was convinced she made the right decision.
Four years later, Gentile, who graduated May 25 with BA degrees in English and Business Administration, points to international trips to Madrid, Spain for study abroad and an immersion excursion to El Salvador through University Ministry as pivotal to her development.
Both trips introduced her to the real world. A volunteer stint in Madrid gave her access to assist mothers and children affected by domestic abuse. The experience gave her greater awareness of and increased interest in working for women’s rights. She was further inspired in El Salvador when meeting social and human rights activists who survived the country’s civil war.
Gentile also made quite an impact on campus. The Honors Program student’s exemplary work as a tutor and coordinator was important to the success of USD’s Writing Center. She put together an interesting research project on Hinduism and British Romanticism literature. She enjoyed being in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, whose community service work focuses on women’s issues and develops strong female leaders. Gentile cherished faculty mentors and advisors who encouraged and supported her holistic educational growth, from research to spirituality.
Altogether, Gentile is set for a post-graduation, international real-world experience. She was selected as a Fulbright Scholar and leaves this month for Kolkata (Calcutta), India, to begin a nine-month stint as an English teaching assistant.
“I have no reservations going to India,” Gentile said. “This is the next step.”
That experience will build on what she discovered in Madrid and El Salvador.
“It was one of my most impactful experiences in determining my life direction,” Gentile said of her volunteer opportunity in Madrid. “They needed someone to babysit while mothers were going for counseling and other important services. I met one mother from Afghanistan and her three daughters. I was blown away by the openness they extended to me. We spoke to each other in our second languages, Spanish, and they shared their stories about Afghanistan. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t do more than help them with English lessons. They were stuck and making do because they didn’t have the papers to go elsewhere. That’s when I became acutely aware of the plight of women.”
Gentile, who grew up with mostly male siblings and cousins, wants to make life better for other women.
“I was raised with boys, but I never thought that anything they did was something I couldn’t, or that there were any boundaries for me. After Madrid, I knew I wanted to get involved. It led me to apply to Fulbright. Being a woman who’s getting an education, it’s the basis for anything else I do. I love school. I can’t imagine if I was unable to pursue my studies. It’s a big problem in other places in the world and I want to do something about it.”
When her passion took hold, Gentile’s parents suggested she find an on-the-ground experience. University Ministry Associate Minister Maria Gaughan told her about the El Salvador trip held each January during Intersession.
“We spent half the time in San Salvador talking to human rights groups and people who had gone through the war. I equate it now to what people know about Syria. Go visit Syria 10-15 years in its aftermath and what is it going to look like? I think a lot of people in the U.S. don’t know about El Salvador. Current USD students like me weren’t alive yet. To get the perspective of these people was really interesting and it was encouraging to see environmental groups, women’s groups and more focused on issues I also think are important in the U.S. and in other countries.”
Gentile also did a home stay in the rural community of Guarjila, where residents had been refugees who rebuilt their lives after the war. Her appreciation for others and living in community with them deepened her passion.
The Fulbright experience awaits. She can’t wait. “I think that right now is the age of feminism and the age of women, specifically in India,” Gentile said. “There’s a lot of change that is happening. I’m excited to be involved. The Fulbright is the first step in that direction.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos by Chris Keeney