Geri "GiGi" Ross

Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Asian Studies; Bachelor in English Literature

College/School: Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs

Being raised in an isolated environment, amidst poverty and family difficulties, GiGi Ross, 23, might not seem the likeliest candidate for a degree in Asian studies. College friends exposed her to Japanese anime but it was a visit to the tiny city of Gero, Japan, famous for its hot springs, which solidified her passion for the country, its culture and language. She visited Japan two more times, including a semester at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka.  She later hosted Japanese exchange students and tutored others in Japanese, a rarity for a non-native speaker.

Gigi’s dedication to Japanese culture led her to become the first recipient of the Omar K. Carrion Scholarship for Excellence in Asian Studies at FIU, as well as first place winner of the 2015 Florida Statewide Japanese Speech Contest, for which the Japanese government awarded her an all-expense paid trip to Wakayama Prefecture, Florida’s sister state in Japan.

During her talk, Gigi told the story of Tama-chan or “Little Treasure,” a calico cat credited with saving a Wakayama train station after thousands of tourists flocked to see her, leading to her designation as honorary stationmaster.  A Japanese official said Gigi’s presentation on Tama-chan brought tears to his eyes.

Gigi graduates with a 4.0 GPA. After graduation, she will participate in the Disney College Program in Orlando, where she will attend leadership classes and, based on her proficiency in Japanese, assist visitors from Japan. Eventually, GiGi hopes to teach English in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.