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Rodriguez assists Colombian refugees after earning Olsen internship

Paulina RodriguezLinfield College senior Paulina Rodriguez of Newberg is learning about immigration while assisting Colombian refugees in Quito, Ecuador, this summer after earning the Deborah M. Olsen Public Service Internship.

Rodriguez, a Spanish and sociology major, studied at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito through Linfield’s study abroad program during spring semester. She is remaining in Ecuador through the summer to serve as an intern with The Colombian Refugee Project. She is assisting Colombian refugees in a variety of ways, including providing direction to appropriate agencies, meeting with families to evaluate need, and conducting home visits to make sure families are acclimating to the country. She is also tutoring Colombian children and helping distribute food rations.

The topic of immigration is of particular interest to Rodriguez, who was born in Mexico and immigrated from Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua to Oregon with her family at age 7. She hopes to compare and contrast the experiences of Colombian refugees and immigrants to those of Mexican refugees/immigrants living in the United States.

“I am an immigrant to the United States,” she said. “For this reason I can empathize with some of the experiences these people have been through but at the same time I know that there are many people who have gone through very different and hard experiences. I hope to be able to understand in better depth the immigration situation here in Ecuador as well as learn more about the refugees and the reasons they leave Colombia.”

Rodriguez is living with a host family during her stay and has also volunteered at two other organizations − helping at a pre-school for predominantly indigenous children and preparing meals for the elderly.

Last year, she was one of 20 students awarded the 2013 Dr. Juan Andrade Scholarship and she attended the National United States Hispanic Leadership Institute’s national conference in Chicago, Ill.

Rodriguez is the first member in her family to go to college, and she attributes her success to encouraging family and teachers along with her involvement in extracurricular activities. At Linfield, she is a member of Hawaiian Club and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.). She hopes to join the Peace Corps and ultimately pursue a master’s degree in public policy or education.

The Deborah M. Olsen Public Service Internship provides educational opportunities to liberal arts students, expanding the learning experience outside the classroom, preparing students for advanced professional or graduate work, and helping prepare them for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships. The endowed scholarship was established by retired history instructor Deborah Olsen, who also served as Linfield’s competitive scholarships advisor.