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GO! Scholar gives back through Study Abroad Peer Mentor program

Biochemistry major and aspiring pediatrician Melissa Wong embarked on a unique, self-directed study abroad in 2012. Through an independent study course with the UW Asian Languages department, she earned academic credit for completing an ohenro, or pilgrimage, to 88 temples scattered across the Japanese island of Shikoku. The journey, which Melissa made by bike, bus, car, train, and foot, took her across 750 miles of countryside. A Husky Promise student, Melissa studied abroad with the support of a GO! Scholarship. Funded by the Washington State Legislature, GO! Scholarships support study abroad opportunities for students with significant financial need.

Temple visit
At a temple, on her last day of pilgrimage Photo: Melissa Wong

Melissa bloged about her journey to the temples of Shikoku.  She sums up her experiences in the following blog entry, made after visiting the final temple:

One of the most important gifts I received was courage and bravery. I am willing to take more risks and not be afraid of the unknown. The old Melissa would never bike to 88 temples, take initiative to meet new people, and travel out of her boundaries. This is something you can never learn from textbooks.

Now back on the UW campus, Melissa is giving back by serving as a Study Abroad Peer Mentor. The peer mentorship program, facilitated by International Programs & Exchanges, connects undergraduates just back from studying abroad with students considering a similar experience. “When I saw the opportunity to become a Peer Mentor, I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back after receiving the GO! Scholarship,” she explains.

A pre-med biochemistry major, Melissa hopes that she can inspire fellow science majors to study abroad.  She wants to show that it’s possible and very beneficial to work around sequential courses and busy schedules to study abroad. “I learned so much from the people I met in Japan,” Melissa explains, “…to go with the flow and do what I like, and see how it connects to my future goals later. Everything I’ve done since getting back has been influenced by my experiences in Japan.”

After returning from her study abroad, Melissa took Astronomy 101, just because the subject interests her. “Since then, I’ve been working with Professor Fraser on the Mobile Planetarium, where we teach 1st and 2nd graders about astronomy. I think volunteering as a teacher will help me become a better pediatrician.” Melissa’s journey with study abroad doesn’t stop with peer mentorship. She will travel to South Korea this fall with the Family & Child Nursing: Culture, Immigration & Health Exploration Seminar, and she hopes to engage in a direct exchange or internship abroad next year.