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Through the Gates: Mapping Their Futures

Patricia Cady Remmer '45 Fund aids students abroad.

Samantha Hicks ’11 spent last summer in steamy Mumbai, India, honing her Hindi and Urdu as an intern with the U.S. Department of State. More than 3,500 miles away, Shira R. Borzak ’12 was in Budapest, her home for seven weeks while collaborating with an international team at the Cold War History Research Center. Discussing Stalinism with a Polish woman, Borzak, 21, thought to herself, “This is a surreal thing. Twenty years ago, this would not have been impossible.”

The students’ travels would have been equally out of the question without the generous assistance of an alumna they’d never met, a woman who was as passionate about globetrotting as she was about Barnard. Patricia Cady Remmer ’45 crisscrossed the planet with her husband and four children, visiting Asia, the Galápagos Islands, and Tanzania.

She was always grateful to Barnard for the full scholarship that enabled her to earn a degree in mathematics. After Remmer, a Barnard trustee from 1990 to 2001, died in 2004, her family created the Patricia Cady Remmer ’45 International Experience Internship Fund to support Barnard students interning outside the United States at nonprofit or public-sector organizations.

First awarded in 2008, the fund last year provided grants to four Barnard students, including Hicks, 22, who had initially planned to earn money and gain experience in Washington, D.C., on a paid internship with the State Department. Officials there encouraged her to enhance her proficiency in Hindi and Urdu at an unpaid internship instead. The government provided lodging in Mumbai, but the Remmer Fund covered her travel and expenses.

The typical grant averages $2,000, says Abigail Talcott, a stewardship officer whose duties include keeping fund donors up to date on how their contributions are being allocated. Students can use the Remmer Fund gifts to defray or pay for travel or lodging expenses. When students are offered an international internship, the expense tends to be higher; they may not be able to pursue the opportunity without funding. Once a young woman secures such an internship, she can apply to the Office of Career Development for Remmer Fund support. Applicants must write essays on how the opportunity abroad relates to their career goals and academic studies. Grants are awarded each spring; about 40 percent of applicants receive funding.

Cleopatra McGovern ’12 used her Remmer award to pay for her trip last summer to a privately funded health clinic in Santiago, Chile. Her duties included giving shots, assisting in surgery, helping in the emergency room, and counseling patients in Spanish. Her three- month stint in Chile reinforced her commitment to a career in medicine serving low-income patients. The daughter of Athena Viscusi ’82 and granddaughter of Margo Meier Viscusi ’56, McGovern had not previously considered living or working abroad, but her experience in Chile prompted her to reconsider. “The fund really enables us to be an autonomous person in a foreign country. I’m really thankful for it,” McGovern acknowledges.

Phoebe Lytle ’13 also headed south, to Quito, Ecuador, to volunteer with the Colombian Refugee Project. During her 10-week stay last summer, she documented the life stories of Colombians fleeing the violence of their country’s civil war. Interviewing and photographing refugees to tap into her interest in advocacy journalism. Her work can be seen on the group’s Web site, colombianrefugeeproject.wordpress.com, and on a blog, phoebelytle.tumblr.com. 

Lytle also helped start a food cooperative and assisted the project’s director, Patricia Morck, in shutting down the microloan program, which foundered because the refugees were too unsettled emotionally and physically to launch small businesses.

Most moving for her was interviewing refugees, some of whom had been in Quito for seven or eight years and “were still as troubled as when they arrived,” she says.

“It was amazing that they were willing to talk to me about this,” she says of their stories of terrifying violence. “I couldn’t do anything more than listen. They said that was enough.”

Broadening international understanding was a common theme for Remmer Fund recipients. Borzak, who is planning a career in international relations and foreign policy, worked in Budapest with other research interns from England, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and the U.S. on a comprehensive political and diplomatic history of the Cold War. During their time off, the researchers compared what they’d learned as students about the Cold War and how each country’s position had shaped its citizens’ views. Hicks’s summer abroad immersed her in Indian culture, which included slogging through monsoon season and exploring Mumbai. Workdays involved translating for Indians who were being fingerprinted for visas and attending consular events. “It was the first internship where I felt immediately like I was in the right place,” she notes.

Talcott says each year’s crop of Remmer Fund recipients impresses her with their ambition and personal quest for global understanding. “They don’t see an international experience across the world as something they can’t do,” she says.

- by June D. Bell
- Color Photograph by Dorothy Hong