January 19, 2012
Melissa Mercado ‘13 has spent less than two weeks on campus since she started her junior year. That’s because the international relations major has chosen to fully ensconce herself in her studies by participating in back-to-back study abroad programs, first in Brazil and then in Uganda.
“From the moment I came to Rollins, I knew I was going to study abroad,” Mercado shared. “The accessibility of abroad programs was one of the things that sold the college to me in the first place.”
By the middle of her sophomore year, Mercado had enrolled in the SIT Brazil Social Justice and Sustainable Development program, which promised to give participants an in-depth look at the vast human and environmental challenges confronting northeast Brazil's populations and the impact of social inequities on economic growth.
Mercado began the semester-long program in September starting with a six-week intensive Portuguese language and cultural component before embarking on her independent study project. After connecting with Banco Paju in the small northern town of Pajuçara, Mercado had intended on investigating the bank’s micro-financing initiatives but quickly became far more intrigued by its unique social programs.
“Banco Paju is a tiny bank in an extremely poor and underdeveloped town,” Mercado shared. “But it has a lot of social programs designed to support the citizens of Pajuçara.” Mercado spent an entire month exploring the ways the bank addressed the needs of the community by providing various seminars and initiatives that aimed to foster entrepreneurship and growth in the region.
Throughout her study, Mercado was consistently amazed by the level of commitment the bank displayed to its community. “A woman I interviewed once told me that in America we have the Statue of Liberty, but in Pajuçara, they have Banco Paju. This was such a powerful moment for me and made me realize how impactful this bank was to the community.”
After finishing a final paper on her experience, Mercado headed home on December 15 to celebrate the holidays and to prepare for her next study abroad trip to Uganda, which begins on February 1. There she’ll participate in the SIT program, Uganda: Post Conflict Transformation.
According to International Programs Adviser Dawn Wharram, about 75 percent of all full-time Rollins undergraduates participate in a study abroad experience by the time they graduate. “Rollins offers students three types of programs: field studies led by faculty and/or staff, semester and short term,” Wharram explained, who emphasizes of importance the keeping these programs financially accessible to all interested scholars.
“Students can apply for scholarships for the field study and short-term programs. In some cases, financial aid may apply to these programs as well. In addition, Rollins financial aid does transfer when a student participates in a Rollins-approved semester program so generally if a student can afford a semester at Rollins, they can afford a semester abroad.”
It’s these types of abroad experiences, according to Associate Professor of Political Science Mike Gunter, that bring an unparalleled level of depth to one’s academic journey. “Learning about other cultures illustrates as no lecture or textbook can the strengths and weaknesses of our own unique country,” he said. “The kicker here is that experience also gives students an amazing advantage in terms of job prospects after college. Americans in general are woefully ignorant about how the rest of the world works, and the only way to truly erase that handicap is to see the world in action.”
As for her career, Mercado is already considering working with an international NGO after she graduates next year. “I think there are so many troubles in the world, so many horrible things going on, we have to be a part of making things better,” said the globetrotter, who finds herself increasingly drawn to international travel. “Experiencing new things and being received into a new culture is so great.”
By Kristen Manieri
Office of Marketing & Communications
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