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On May 21, I was supposed to be boarding a plane to Peru to start an 8 week immersive volunteer experience in Cusco. I had been counting down the days to May 21 since I got my tickets in February – I had even begun purchasing items I thought would be necessary during my stay in Cusco. But alas! A global pandemic. No more boarding planes to Peru and no need to keep the items I had excitedly bought weeks earlier. It’s crazy to think how different this first blog post could have been!

Even though volunteering in Peru did not become a reality this summer, a unique opportunity to work on an independent project did come to fruition. Last week, I started my remote DukeEngage independent project with MPOWER as a Social Impact Intern. MPOWER is a public benefit corporation that provides affordable loans to international students and DACA recipients trying to attend school in the United States. I am working with the Social Impact Team to conduct research on how international students are being affected by COVID-19, which mainly involves interviewing international students and sending out surveys to obtain data. The project will hopefully culminate in a final paper that can be shared within MPOWER but also to other companies/organizations to bring attention to the importance of supporting international students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conversations that I have had with international students this week have shed light on why this project is important. Not only is the COVID-19 pandemic a unique, perhaps once in a lifetime situation, but it is also a time when international students are particularly vulnerable. Having been surrounded by international students at my high school and now at Duke, I am passionate about this project because I feel like there is a lot of work to be done to support this group of students while the struggles of COVID-19 grip the world.

Looking forward, I am most excited to continue speaking with international students because every conversation I’ve had so far has been eye-opening and inspiring. Although I can no longer travel to Peru with DukeEngage this summer, the ability to connect with students around the world has been a global experience that I did not think was possible during quarantine. Luckily, my supervisor at MPOWER has been great with communication, helping me set goals, and planning out the next steps of the project. I am very grateful that my supervisor has taken the time to make this not only a really impactful project for me, but also hopefully to international students that are facing unique hardships during this time. I am hopeful as to where this project will lead, and my first week was nothing but engaging, informative, and inspiring!