Learning Abroad in an Immigration Destination

Jasmine Rouzegar and Madlyn Ott
Jasmine Rouzegar (left) and Madlyn Ott (right) in Sicily during their summer study abroad

Learning abroad is an amazing opportunity for any student to experience a different culture while learning something new and, perhaps, even doing research. Jasmine Rouzegar and Madlyn Ott took advantage of all of these opportunities in Sicily the summer after they graduated. They spent their time researching issues related to Sicily’s influx of immigrants while also experiencing Italy’s culture.

A New Kind of Study Abroad

As two good friends, Rouzegar and Ott both knew that they wanted to study abroad during their time in college, but when COVID-19 caused universities to cancel learning abroad programs, they didn’t think it would be possible. In fact, they were both finishing their senior years—their undergraduate experience would soon be behind them. However, while taking Professor Giovanna Dell’Orto’s Global Communication class, Rouzegar was introduced to a study abroad program on migration, human rights, and the media. Then while taking Associate Professor Jack DeWaard’s course on human migration in the Sociology department, the pair became further interested in the program and made the decision to go.

The group would be working with the Siracusa Institute of Criminal Justice and Human Rights during their time in Sicily. This new abroad program only consisted of five students, each of them focused on a specific research question relating to human rights and immigration in Italy. To prepare, each student took an additional research course within the program that was focused on their specific research topics.

Rouzegar studied the human trafficking of Nigerian women to Sicily, and Ott studied the human rights violations against migrants in the Mediterranean. The students conducted this research while the immigrants continued to arrive in Sicily. As Ott describes it, “we were learning it while we were living it.” 

Researching What They’re Seeing

At the outset, Rouzegar says that the institute “wasn’t keen” on having undergraduate students work with them, because, previously, the institute had only worked with post-graduate students. That reluctance didn’t dishearten these undergraduates. The group ended up writing such great papers that the institute “wanted to expand the program and let more undergrads come and visit them,” Rouzegar says. “It made me feel very proud.”

To conduct their research, they interviewed immigrants and used online data. Ott describes that a challenge she faced with her research was collecting data. She was not able to find all the data she needed due to Libya's restrictions on their information about migrants. Instead, what she found came from the migrants themselves. “The only data we got were from the people who escaped that made it without dying and or being caught and then [were willing] to talk about it after," she says. However, she didn’t let the lack of data from Libya’s restrictions stop her, and she used what she was able to get her hands on and researched human right’s violations as much as she could. 

Next Steps

The experience Ott and Rouzegar had while abroad has influenced their future plans. Rouzegar is planning on going back to Europe sometime soon to become an au pair. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while, that I need to go back. I pretty much thought about it since my plane landed,” she says. 

Ott is working at a law firm now and will soon attend law school, where she hopes to become an international human rights lawyer. Her goal is to return to the Siracusa Institute of Criminal Justice and Human Rights as an intern.

“Say yes to everything”

While in Italy, the pair also took trips to Rome and Venice, where they made some of their favorite memories, and enjoyed dishes of Italy’s famous gelato. They both encourage undergraduates to take advantage of the learning abroad programs the U of M provides. 

Rouzegar says to “say yes to everything” while learning abroad. “Do all the trips. If somebody says they are going somewhere and they want somebody to go with them, tell them that you're gonna go.” The planned events and spontaneous day trips became some of their best learning-abroad memories. For students who might be on the fence about learning abroad, Ott encourages them to just “do it. You’re gonna love it no matter what.” 

These alumni’s learning-abroad experiences were so positive and fruitful that they have inspired the next steps in their lives and careers. They encourage any student to study abroad if they can; they know they won’t regret it.

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