Melissa Godin, a senior in the Global Liberal Studies program, is one of three NYU students to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for 2017. Melissa came to NYU from Vancouver, Canada, with an already established interest in humanitarian causes. At NYU, she's researched volunteer tourism in Cambodia on a Liberal Studies research grant and will soon travel to Guatemala to continue this research. Her work will culminate in a thesis debating the value of volunteer tourism in developing countries. She's also founded Not a Saviour, a campaign to discuss volunteer tourism and analyze how it can better support the development of communities abroad. The Rhodes Scholarship will support her graduate study at Oxford University, where she will further her research on global development.
Melissa is the first GLS student to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. We spoke with her about the work that led to this achievement.
What drew you to GLS as a major?
I was drawn to GLS because of the program's holistic approach to education. I am a strong proponent that one of the best ways to learn is through experience, and GLS—with its emphasis on studying abroad and its focus on experiential learning—seemed like the perfect fit.
How did global study through NYU impact your perspective?
All my years at NYU have been a study abroad experience. Coming from the mountains in Vancouver, Canada, to New York City was already a big change for me. I spent the fall of my second year in Florence and my entire third year in Paris. Living in these three cities fundamentally changed my global perspective and my view of what an education should look like.
While living in various countries, I witnessed that development is a chronic problem confounding twenty-year-olds and government officials alike. In 2014, while studying in Florence, I watched the migrants pour into Italy before the rest of the world fully grasped the magnitude of the refugee situation, whilst local newspapers begged Europe to react to prevent a crisis erupting. A year later, taking courses at Sciences Po in Paris, I found myself discussing the 'graveyard' that was the Mediterranean Sea with my peers. Three months onward, bullets shattered the glass of my favorite Cambodian restaurant in an attack that would shake the world, while refugees set up camp on my street. Fast-forward a few more months when I sat at the Canadian embassy as an intern, reporting on the crisis culminating in Brexit. Throughout my time at NYU, I have been able to experience culture, politics, and crisis in a way that I never would have been able to in a more isolated college. Most importantly, however, my global education has taught me that the world is far more similar than we imagine it to be—that for all the differences we may have, we also have an innumerable similarities.
How did your interest in volunteer tourism and global development develop?
I've been interested in development for as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I threw myself into every and any humanitarian cause I could get my hands on. However, sometimes I didn't even fully understand the cause I was supporting. When I was sixteen, for instance, I did a yearlong project to raise awareness about human trafficking. I boycotted clothing brands complicit in human slavery, developed an educational program on human trafficking, and organized a benefit concert for my peers that raise $16,000 for the non-profit, Not For Sale. I was proud to have successfully engaged teenagers in a meaningful way and believed I understood the complexity of the cause. This naive pride was ephemeral, as a few weeks after the event, it was exposed that the 'local' brands I was wearing were produced in sweatshops. This disappointment was compounded by the realization that my fellow teenagers had attended the concert merely to see musicians perform. It was then that I realized that advocacy and development were far more complicated than I had once imagined, and it was this project that made me want to study global development.
What was the most surprising thing you learned during your research on orphanage tourism in Cambodia?
The most surprising thing I learned throughout this research trip, on which I partnered with my fellow GLS senior Louis Slade, was just how difficult it really is to do field research. I prepared for my trip in every way I could have—read about the country, about volunteer tourism, and about this orphanage in particular—and yet I was unprepared. Looking back, I don't think there was anything that could have prepared me for my research. I went in with this false expectation that with five weeks in Cambodia, I would be able to diagnose solutions to the problems caused by volunteer tourism. I spent any downtime staring at a blank Word document, not knowing how to summarize my experience. Finally, I realized that the complexity of this research was worth talking about in and of itself. This inspired me to give a TEDxNYU talk on my research the following year, in Paris.
How did you choose a Master of Philosophy in Development Studies for your graduate work?
I looked at various universities and different programs before deciding this was the program for me. I picked the M.Phil in Development studies at Oxford, because much like GLS, the program was multi-disciplinary and emphasized experiential learning. GLS set a pretty high standard for the education that I hoped to receive at the graduate level. When you have studied in three different cities, taken classes in three different languages, done two university-funded research trips on different continents, and had one-on-one attention with every single on of your professors—the bar is set pretty high.
What would be your dream job?
I am passionate about pursuing a career where I can better understand the underlying causes of poverty and in turn, work towards better representing these issues so that more effective solutions are developed.
What does it mean to you to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar?
It is such an unbelievable honour to have received this scholarship. I don't think it has sunk in yet, and I am not sure if it ever will. I hope that being a Rhodes scholar will give me a platform to promote the causes I care deeply about while learning and growing amongst some of the most talented individuals in the world.