Alumni CLASnotes Fall 2002

Living and Learning Abroad

Lombardi Scholars Experience Mexico

Copa MexicoWhen the university's first group of Lombardi Scholars found out they were to join UF's most prestigious honors program, they were filled with excitement. But when they realized this meant they would have to spend an entire summer in Merida, Mexico, they were a little surprised. "When I found out I was going to Mexico for the summer, I was filled with a lot of questions and doubts," says Trang Tran of Tampa. "Even though Mexico isn't that far away, it is still a whole other country."

Tran is one of eight entering freshman in the inaugural group of Lombardi Scholars. The scholars were selected last spring to participate in the newly created scholarship program established in honor of John V. Lombardi, former UF president and history professor. In addition to a sizable financial package, the scholars participate in four all-expense-paid summer research adventures throughout their UF careers. They are required to spend their first summer after high school participating in a research project outside the US.

"One of the reasons we chose to do this was because we wanted them to undergo a college-like experience before coming to UF," says Jeanna Mastrodicasa, associate director of the UF Honors Program. "They are very young, cognitively, and the reason we liked Merida was because it is a really intense cultural experience. By taking them out of their comfortable high school environment and placing them into an unfamiliar one, they matured very quickly."

The scholars were selected in late March out of 147 applicants. Supported by a fund at the UF Foundation, the program was based on high caliber academic programs from peer institutions, such as the University of Georgia's Foundation Fellows and the University of Tennessee's Whittle Scholars. The Lombardi Scholars knew when they were chosen that there was a possibility they would be going away for the summer, but they did not find out until late April they were going to Merida. By the end of June, they were on a plane to Mexico.

"When I first found out I would be going to Mexico, I was very excited," says Todre Allen of Immokalee. "At the same time, I did not want to go on a trip to a foreign country without my close friends or family. It turns out that I found an additional set of both in Merida." The scholars were matched with a Meridan family, with whom they lived and studied during their stay. Since most of the families had children of their own, the scholars fit right in. "The family I lived with was extremely nice and accommodating," says Casey Furman of Bradenton. "Right from the beginning the father of the host family I lived with said, 'You are my son here.'"

Each day the students would get up early and find their way to the University of Yucatan, where they attended a Spanish class taught by University of Yucatan professors and an anthropology class taught by Allan Burns, professor and chair of UF's anthropology department. The scholars earned five hours of anthropology credit and two hours of honors credit. "What we learned in the classroom allowed us to enjoy and understand more deeply what we saw on our excursions and in everyday life in the city," says Furman. The students took day trips to key points of interest, led by Burns and Mark Brenner, director of the Land Use and Environmental Change Institute at UF. They explored Mayan ruins and historic sites, learned to make pottery, swam in caves, learned about herbal medicines and studied plants and wildlife.

Though the students faced new challenges, they adapted to their new environment and learned to thrive in Merida. "The social, academic and life survival skills I acquired in Merida will help to ease my transition to UF," says Jennifer Bonds of Tallahassee. "I believe I have matured, become more independent, and gained a large amount of knowledge on cultural differences and how to work around them."

This group of scholars will get together again next summer and probably travel to somewhere in Europe, possibly France. First-year Lombardi scholars will continue to visit Merida.

--Buffy Lockette

Courtesy Allan Burns

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