Scholarship and Service: Mount Students Travel Abroad with Awards from U.S. Department of State
Mount students continually learn and serve, and many times, it’s far from home. Seniors Ideline Gomez, who spent three months in Cusco, Peru, and Danica Luc, who traveled to Thessaloniki, Greece, decided on two unusual locales after each was awarded a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a program supporting service-learning projects in foreign countries, aiming to diversify students who study and intern abroad.
Perched high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the city of Cusco attracts visitors eager to explore archaeological wonders, a teeming marketplace, and the nearby mountain citadel of Machu Picchu.
Thessaloniki, an ancient Greek city founded in 315 BCE, blends old and new with its monuments, museums, and ancient ruins mingled with shops, restaurants, and nightclubs.
While neither metropolis could be considered a typical choice for study abroad, both were the perfect choice for two Mount students who sought to make the most of an exceptional opportunity.
Ideline Gomez ’16, a psychology and Spanish major planning a career in occupational therapy, grew up in Yonkers, N.Y. In May, she joined a service-learning program sponsored by IPSL in Cusco, Peru. The experience helped her attune to the needs of a culture very different from her own. “Living and working within the Peruvian community taught me so much about the universal need for resources we Americans take for granted,” she says.
During her stay, Ideline immersed herself in the day-to-day lives of her Peruvian host community. “It didn’t take long to recognize their urgent need for books and medical supplies,” she recalls. While working with adolescent girls from the village, she learned that one of them, a 12-year-old, could not read or write. The girl’s shy request for help inspired Ideline—along with other Mount students and IPSL volunteers—to purchase a reading workbook, allowing Ideline to help her began to study the alphabet. “There wasn’t time to teach her everything, but it was important to make a beginning,” she says.
Ideline’s post-graduate plans now include a desire to serve where the need is greatest. “My time in Peru taught me that, whatever imperfections I might see in American schools, we have so many advantages that kids in other countries just don’t have—even the tools to learn,” she says.
Danica Luc ’16, a biology major, spent her senior fall semester in Thessaloniki, Greece. Well aware that the heavy academic requirements of science majors can often make study abroad difficult, she enlisted the help of a faculty advisor in finding a program that would meet her academic needs.
Danica’s service project—helping Greek students improve their English language skills—took an unexpected turn when refugees by the thousands began arriving on Greece’s shores to escape civil war in Syria. She began volunteering at a distribution center that provided food, clothing, and shoes for the refugees. “Seeing these struggles firsthand opened my eyes to all that needs to be done in the world,” she says. “I met a lot of amazing, brave people who made great sacrifices to help the refugees. It inspires me to do similar work after graduation.”
Both students expressed their deep appreciation for the support they received. “I knew this experience would change my life and allow me to change the lives of others,” says Danica. “The Gilman scholarship gave me not only the financial help I needed to study in Greece, but also the confidence and faith that hard work, sweat, and tears will produce positive results.”
Like Danica, Ideline is grateful for the assistance and guidance she received: “Without the Gilman Scholarship and the help of my teachers, IPSL, and others at the Mount, there would have been no study abroad for me.”