Unlike many Columbia students who may be interning in New York or working in their hometowns this summer, Mike Vorselen, GS ’17, will be in the Serra do Mar State Park in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest conducting environmental fieldwork and studying the rainforest ecosystem.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get outside and be out of the total urbanism of New York City and just be in rainforest,” he said.
Vorselen, who came to Columbia after serving as a marine in Afghanistan, is also the only General Studies student selected for the first year of the Presidential Global Fellowship program, which provides funding and stipends for 12 first-year students to participate in summer programs at Columbia’s global centers.
He said he looks forward to the more traditional college experience this fellowship will provide.
“I decided to apply to the fellowship because it’s a good opportunity for me to integrate into the school,” Vorselen said. “Working through the fellowship, I feel more like a member of the University as a whole, as opposed to someone who just comes here to take classes and then goes back to his apartment.”
The other fellows are Evan Clinton, CC ’17, Mennaallah Elsayed, CC ’17, Wina Huang, CC ’17, Neha Jain, SEAS ’17, Elena Klein, CC ’17, Katherine McMahon, CC ’17 and a Spectator arts and entertainment deputy, Margaret Self, CC ’17, Amanda Song, CC ’17, Andres Soto, SEAS ’17, Jess Swanson, CC ’17, and Monique Williams, CC ’17. They will travel to cities ranging from Amman, Jordan, to Venice, Italy.
The Presidential Global Fellowship program, announced last November, is funded by a seed grant from University President Lee Bollinger. To prepare for their summers abroad, fellows are participating in weekly workshops with program coordinators.
Elsayed, Klein, Song, and Self are all going to Reid Hall in Paris, though Klein’s program will also bring her to Amman.
Elsayed, who started learning French at age nine when she moved to Egypt, will study French language and political life at Reid.
“I want to get a feel for how multiculturalism is different in Paris as opposed to New York City,” she said. “I want to see how religious minorities function in a secular government. I want to see how my immigrant community is experiencing being in a foreign space.”
This summer will be Elsayed’s first time in France.
“I’m looking forward just to being there, really,” she said. “You rarely have opportunities to travel without worrying about cost, especially at a young age.”
Song and Self will also be studying French language and culture. Neither responded to requests for interviews.
The Presidential Global Fellowship website said that Song is a prospective computer science major and Self, who is from a small town in rural Alabama, is interested in education and hopes not only to obtain her teaching certification but also to one day be able to impact educational policy.
Klein will be traveling to both Amman and Paris to take courses in Middle Eastern and North African studies. She also did not respond to a request for an interview.
In Jordan, Klein will be joined by McMahon and Williams, both of whom will be studying elementary Arabic—in McMahon’s words, “a year’s worth of Arabic in 9 weeks.”
McMahon has never traveled to the Middle East before, but as a potential Middle Eastern and South Asian studies major, she hopes to learn more about the region’s culture firsthand.
“I’m really excited to live in a homestay with a Jordanian family,” she said. “It’s really immersive, which is scary because I don’t know any Arabic at this point. I mean, I have a textbook and a DVD and stuff. I’ll just have to read it before I go.”
Williams will also be traveling to Amman, Jordan, to study Arabic. Although her primary interest is in political science and international development, Williams says she has felt herself drawn to courses on Middle Eastern culture and hopes one day to work in the region.
“I’m most excited about just going there and seeing firsthand how the daily life differs as much as people would make it seem from here,” she said.
Swanson will be heading to Venice, Italy, this summer to study art history—even though she’s planning on majoring in political science. This summer will be her first time traveling outside the United States.
“Looking through history in my poli sci and history classes, I find they lack the emotional reactions that I want, but looking at art, you get to see how people responded emotionally to cultural and political events,” she said. “I’ve done art my entire life and it allows me an expressive capacity I don’t get in my other classes.”
“I’m most excited to leave the country to see a different place,” Swanson said. “Having never left before, I’ve often thought about where I’d go first, and I always wanted to go somewhere where I could see art, so Italy is ideal for me.”
Clinton will also be in Venice studying art history and Italian. He said he’s looking forward to experiencing Venice firsthand, while it’s still above water. He said that he views the city’s food, culture, and art as its three main draws.
But Clinton said the most nerve-wracking part will be the language.
“I’m in Italian this year but I’m not that good, so it’ll be scary to be there on my own, communicating in something that’s not my preferred medium,” he said.
Soto, one of three students headed to China, will be taking advanced Chinese and interning in Beijing.
He said he’s worried about not connecting with the people.
“It’s so far out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I connect well with people from Western countries because we have a history of shared culture, but with China I don’t have that.”
Still, Soto, who has taken Chinese since seventh grade, said the language barrier will be an incentive.
“I’m looking forward to using Chinese every single day. It’s going to be challenging, but I look forward to it,” he said. “I take the opportunity to speak it every chance I get here, even just to the waiter at a Chinese restaurant.”
Soto said his interest in engineering also makes China the ideal summer destination.
“I’m interested in the culture, in the philosophies of feng shui and the ideas of balance, and applying that to engineering,” he said. “I find that there’s an imbalance between man, society, civilization, and nature, so one of my goals for the trip is to learn more about those ideas and try to apply them.”
Huang will also spend the summer in China, interning and studying business Chinese in Shanghai. Born in Vancouver, Huang said that the program will give her an opportunity to learn more about Chinese language and culture.
Huang says the program combines many of her interests as a prospective economics major.
“To be able to learn on a level that’s applicable to daily life and then directly apply that to an internship in an amazing city is a dream come true,” she said. “I’m definitely going to be outside my comfort zone and I know it’s going to be very challenging, but I look forward to that. ... In candid terms, it makes me feel like I’m growing up.”
Jain is also headed to Shanghai, where she will study business Mandarin and complete an internship. Jain said the combination of language instruction, business experience, and cultural exposure is exactly what she’s looking for.
“Through this program, I hope to become fluent in Mandarin, gain valuable knowledge about business in China, and make lots and lots of new friends in China,” she said.
“The cohort is a dynamic and diverse one in every respect—intellectually gifted, relentlessly curious, and committed to Columbia’s global vision,” Michael Pippenger, dean of undergraduate global programs, said in the CC press release. “They are leaders on campus and will be outstanding global ambassadors of our community.”