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By Lookout Staff

September 7, 2016 -- Santa Monica College (SMC) graduate Daniel Zarate wanted to experience the eye-opening sense of the new that his parents must have felt when they arrived from El Salvador, so he headed to Tokyo, Japan.

Last week, SMC officials announced that Zarate was among the 79 undergraduate students from colleges and universities from across the United States awarded a $10,000 Bridging Scholarship for Study Abroad in Japan by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ).

The scholarship, which is sponsored by the US-Japan Bridging Foundation, is making it possible for Zarate to attend the Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ), the oldest and largest foreign university officially recognized by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

“Most of my life I was only exposed to South Los Angeles and South Gate, which made me eager to discover cultures outside of these borders,” said Zarate, who was raised by his Salvadoran mother, who is a truck driver.

At SMC, which he chose for its high transfer rates and convenient commute from his home, Zarate was encouraged by his Japanese language instructors to study on the island.

“What attracted me to study the Japanese language was the vast majority of Japanese international friends I made at SMC,” Zarate said. “After hanging out with them for most of my first year at SMC, I decided to begin studying the language more formally.”

After Spanish, Japanese is the largest of the 15 language programs offered through the SMC Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, college officials said.

“Daniel is a very self-motivated, goal-oriented individual who sets high standards for himself,” said Professor Keiko Tsurumi, one of Zarate's instructors. “He’s a real doer.”

Zarate -- who mentored John Adams Middle School students through SMC’s Brother-to-Brother mentoring program -- said he wants to be part of the organizing committee for the 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo.

"I have only been in Japan for a short while and have a long road ahead of me, but I have already grown so much personally and professionally," Zarate said.

"Most importantly, I want people to know that I am living proof that striving for any dream is worth it because it is possible.”

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