Higher education — The 2011 Newberg High School graduate is serving in Ecuador with the Columbian Refugee Project

McMINNVILLE — Linfield College senior Paulina Rodriguez, a 2011 Newberg High School graduate, is learning about immigration while assisting Columbian refugees in Quito, Ecuador, this summer after earning the Deborah M. Olsen Public Service Internship.

RodriguezRodriguez, a Spanish and sociology major, studied at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito through Linfield’s study abroad program during spring semester.

She elected to remain in Ecuador through the summer to serve as an intern with The Colombian Refugee Project. She is assisting Colombian refugees in a variety of ways, including providing direction to appropriate agencies, meeting with families to evaluate need, and conducting home visits to make sure families are acclimating to the country. She is also tutoring Colombian children and helping distribute food rations.

The topic of immigration is of particular interest to Rodriguez, who was born in Mexico and emigrated from Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua to Oregon with her family at age 7.

She said she hopes to compare and contrast the experiences of Colombian refugees and immigrants to those of Mexican refugees/ immigrants living in the United States.

“I am an immigrant to the United States,” she said. “For this reason I can empathize with some of the experiences these people have been through, but at the same time I know that there are many people who have gone through very different and hard experiences. I hope to be able to understand in better depth the immigration situation here in Ecuador as well as learn more about the refugees and the reasons they leave Colombia.”

Rodriguez lives with a host family and has also volunteered at two other organizations — helping at a pre-school for predominantly indigenous children and preparing meals for the elderly.

Last year, she was one of 20 students awarded the 2013 Dr. Juan Andrade Scholarship and she attended the National United States Hispanic Leadership Institute’s national conference in Chicago.

Rodriguez is the first member in her family to go to college and she attributes her success to encouraging family and teachers along with her involvement in extracurricular activities.

She hopes to join the Peace Corps and ultimately pursue a master’s degree in public policy or education.

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