At its core, Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps or “MSEC” is a nine-credit, eight-week summer study abroad program for students interested in a social entrepreneurship internship in Ecuador, Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic. During their stay, students visit remote rural towns with limited resources to conduct health and well-being campaigns, as well as consult with local cooperatives, entrepreneurs and community groups. Knowing Spanish is not required, but with classes and immersion many students come out of the program able to hold conversations with a native speaker.
We wanted to hear what the MSEC experience is really like, so we turned to Rachel George, ’16, a Marketing and English double major student who took the program last summer. The photos below are all from her incredible photo blog of her stay in Ecuador.
DC: Why did you sign up for MSEC?
RG: It was a combination of things. A lot of it was that I hadn’t had a chance to do a semester abroad, so this was a chance for a longer study abroad experience that I didn’t have to take a semester off for. I wanted to explore the social justice sector because that was something I was interested in but didn’t have much experience with. It also gave me a chance to practice my Spanish. Another appeal of it was that it was interdisciplinary consulting projects. I’m in the QUEST program so that’s something I’m already familiar with—working with other majors is something I really love.
DC: At MSEC you stay with a host family. What was that experience like for you?
RG: I went to Ecuador and I stayed with four different host families, so the longest I was with them was for 4 weeks. The family I bonded the most with was when I was in the northern region of the country. It was in a very rural village where there wasn’t very much to do in the evenings besides stay in with our host families. I stayed with them for two weeks. I was living with a single mom and her 15 year-old daughter. At nighttime we’d talk, play cards, my host sister would show me music that she liked and I got to hear more about them—stories that the mom would tell me about being a single mother supporting her daughter with multiple different jobs: she ran a store, she had livestock, she sold clothing that she knit. It was a great learning experience. I’m still friends with my host sister on Facebook.
DC: What was your favorite thing you did through MSEC? Both academically and for fun.
RG: Academically…my favorite point was actually a health campaign we did that was in a town called Simiatug. We did eye exams for a TON of people—a couple hundred people. At that point we were at the end of the trip, so my Spanish was definitely a lot better than it was at the beginning, and it was really satisfying because I spent several hours straight giving eye exams and I rarely needed to call a supervisor over to translate. It was great. For fun…exploring the city. We had a home base in the city of Cuenca and for a couple weeks at a time we would go out to rural areas. While we were in Cuenca, which is a beautiful city, I went out almost every night and explored the town. There was a church up on a hill that overlooked the entire city. The city is cupped in the middle of these mountains, so you can climb up to the church and see the entire city at night and it’s beautiful.
DC: What did you take away from the experience?
RG: Personally, the biggest thing that I got out of the trip was that after coming back I’m definitely more conscious and more grateful for my own circumstances. I remember one of the things that our supervisors said to us: “If you take nothing else from this trip, nothing from the work or even the program, take the experiences you had, the people you met, the things they taught you.” And he told us that “this trip is about learning that you have a comfort zone, and there’s a reality outside of it. There are people struggling to live and support their families every day, and you can do something to help them.” It’s important to remember that there are people outside your reality, people who have different experiences from you. But also that you can help.
DC: Would you recommend MSEC to other students?
RG: Yes I would. I would not give up the experiences that I had for anything.