The Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC) is a unique study and internship program for UMD students to learn about and work directly with emerging economies in Latin America. Students travel to the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, or Nicaragua and focus on creating sustainable entrepreneurial solutions to complex challenges. Earlier this summer we connected with Alexis Marion, an undergraduate student currently in Nicaragua with MSEC, about her experience with the program. Here’s what she had to say:
Marion: I am originally from Miami, Florida and at UMD studying Finance and Marketing with a minor in Law and Society. I am affiliated with University Student Judiciary (USJ) as a community advocate, work as a Resident Assistant on campus, and a member of Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity. I heard about MSEC while scrolling the Smith Global site looking for additional opportunities that I could take advantage of in Spring semester, after my trip to South Africa. I guess you can say I caught the travel bug and wanted a longer in-country experience where I could actually intern and work with an organization or different businesses while in country. MSEC offered a very specific program that met all these needs, with a business focus. I applied because I knew it would be a challenge and that’s just what I was looking for.
This is my first time in Nicaragua and I love it; the people are very warm and personable, and those we’ve met and worked with have really opened up their lives to us. Currently, I am based in San Ramon, Nicaragua which is a department in the North known for its rural landscape filled with coffee farms and beautiful mountains. My team is working on three main projects. The first project is with a local tour company headed by a group of home-stay mothers. Their goal is to start a community bank where the moms are able to pool their funds and take out loans for large expenses, like sending their children to school. We also teach them about the importance of managing personal spending. Our second project helped to re-open a Cyber cafe in the community enabling really affordable access to the internet, which is especially important to the children in the community. The Cyber Café will also serve to attract tourists since there aren’t many other places that have wifi where you can come in with your own device and connect. We developed a cost structure, re-organized the layout, and helped sustain their internet access for a few months. Our final and main project is an ongoing effort to engage with rural communities to provide free eye exams, utilizing a new technology known as the SV-one. We collaborate with schools, local artisans, and participate in municipal events to share information about eye health and issues such as cataracts (which are very common here), and bring along eyeglasses that are significantly cheaper to purchase from our group than from local “Opticas”.
Two important skills I gained from this experience are patience and adaptability. I definitely grew in these areas, and I’m better able to work in teams toward a common goal. I intend to further develop these skills upon my return to the states, since these abilities are in high demand for almost any position. I also think the experience of interning internationally during my undergraduate years will set me apart during my job search, and will definitely help spark conversation during interviews. My global experiences have really opened my eyes to larger themes in international development, and sparked an interest in working internationally after graduation.
For those considering MSEC, I would advise coming into the program with an open mind. Other countries and cultures are not on a time crunch like we tend to be in the US – and that is okay. It works out in the end. With some patience and a willingness to do things a differently you can help communities get moving in ways you cannot even fathom, but won’t have the ability to see fully play-out during your short time in country.