When the wheels of Ximena Tovar’s air­plane touched down this Feb­ruary in Shanghai’s Pudong Air­port, the inter­na­tional affairs stu­dent took a look around at the signs written in Chi­nese and sud­denly didn’t feel so confident.

When I first arrived at the air­port, I had no idea what was hap­pening. I didn’t under­stand the lan­guage very well—it was a little over­whelming,” says Tovar, ’10.

Her feeling of dis­e­qui­lib­rium van­ished once the mul­ti­lin­gual native of Peru began inten­sive courses in Man­darin and Chi­nese, on top of three busi­ness classes, at the Shanghai Uni­ver­sity of Finance and Eco­nomics. She attends classes offered through the Alliance for Global Edu­ca­tion pro­gram, which Tovar found through her North­eastern inter­na­tional co-​​op coordinator.

Before she knew it, Tovar was adapting to her new life. Set­tling into campus housing about 30 min­utes from down­town Shanghai, her home base over­looks a back­street chock­ablock with shops and street ven­dors “selling every­thing,” and nearby restau­rants, she said.

Every morning, she exchanges a hello with the key­maker who replaced her apart­ment key, and she con­fi­dently con­verses with fruit and veg­etable ven­dors on her way to school.

Every­body has been so wel­coming,” she says. “People are inter­ested in learning about me, and want to know why I wanted to study in China.”

It’s an easy ques­tion for Tovar:

China has one of the most impor­tant economies in the world. By being here, and studying every­thing from lan­guage to busi­ness and mar­keting, I get a new perspective—from the point of view of the Chi­nese,” Tovar said. “I now see the global economy from a dif­ferent van­tage point.”

Tovar began to seize the numerous inter­na­tional oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able to North­eastern stu­dents in 88 cities around the globe when she went to work last Sep­tember in a co-​​op job in Costa Rica, for Aliarse, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to pro­moting public-​​private part­ner­ships for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment in Costa Rica.

She used her flu­ency in Spanish to con­duct research into man­u­fac­turing prac­tices and their envi­ron­mental impacts in Costa Rica, using as her inspi­ra­tionearly suc­cess her orga­ni­za­tion had in forg­ing­ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ship between a U.S. tire man­u­fac­turer and the country.

Her Amer­ican “per­son­ality,” which showed itself in the dogged way she pur­sued her inter­view appoint­ments, delighted her col­leagues, she said. “I told them I felt like I was being a pest when I called sec­re­taries so often that they knew my name by my voice,” she said. “The cul­ture in Costa Rica is so dif­ferent than it is in America. But they loved my persistence.”

With the same deter­mi­na­tion, she is learning Chi­nese, adding to her arsenal of lan­guages, (she speaks Spanish, Eng­lish, andalso has some under­standing of French, Italian and Por­tuguese) and dreaming of where her inter­na­tional edu­ca­tion might one day carry her.

I’ve always wanted to work in the area of diplo­macy,” she said. “That’s always at the back of my mind, an idea that I could work for the United Nations someday.”