Growing up in Lexington, South Carolina, Patrick McKenzie never imagined he’d leave
the United States. But as of today, thanks in large part to his time at the South
Carolina Honors College, he has traveled to 22 countries, and he’s just getting started.
“I first left the country in 11th grade to travel to Belize for a class on conservation in the tropics. I was immediately bitten by the travel bug and wanted to go everywhere and see everything. Of course, I didn't have any way to do that. I was really fortunate to end up with some amazing scholarships from the University of South Carolina, and those scholarships have funded all of my travels,” said McKenzie.
One thing that wasn’t a surprise was his path toward helping others and equipping himself to make an impact. Always knowing he wanted a career where he could create meaningful change, his vision for his future came into focus during his time at South Carolina.
“Before I got to college, that meant being a conservation biologist. Then, the more I traveled, the more my passion shifted from the more abstract idea of helping nature to helping people. And my passion has shifted once more towards trying to help individuals in a very specific way, which I hope a career in human rights or immigration law will allow me to do,” said McKenzie.
Both a Stamps Scholar and NOAA Hollings Scholar, McKenzie has spent time conducting research abroad to help the indigenous Ngobe communities of Panama, researching the Hawaiian monk seal and volunteering at the Carolina Survivor Clinic as a tutor for refugees. And his experience in the Honors College has been filled with faculty mentors guiding him and peers challenging and encouraging him. Now he plans to bring his knowledge, experiences and passion together for the next part of his education.
Recently awarded a Boren Scholarship to spend the 2019-2020 academic year studying Arabic at the Qasid Arabic Institute in Jordan, McKenzie will improve his language skills and engage with the local community in Amman. During his time there, he hopes to work with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and spend time traveling the surrounding region. After he completes his Boren experience in Jordan, he plans to work for the U.S. State Department or in the intelligence field for a year before beginning law school.
“One day, I hope to use my improved ability to speak Arabic to help people, and especially refugees, be able to immigrate to the United States. In that sense, the skills I acquire during the Boren Scholarship will directly allow me to help people improve their lives and the lives of their families. I also think that these kinds of multicultural experiences help to build greater empathy and understanding, so I hope to return from Jordan with that as well,” said McKenzie.
Empathy and understanding are crucial issues for McKenzie, as he continued, “I believe that many of the issues we face today stem from a lack of empathy for others. It is common to focus on differences and to dehumanize groups of people. In turn, this leads to complacency, and we allow ourselves to ignore the problems that others face… especially inequality. To this day, there are enormous differences in opportunities based on gender, race, class and place of birth. In my opinion, the only reason we stand for these differences is because we lack sufficient empathy for those that suffer under these systems. If we learn to think about strangers across the world the same way we think about our families, we become obligated to try to right the wrongs of inequality for all people.”
Boren candidates like Patrick McKenzie are supported during the application process
by two offices at the University of South Carolina: the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs, established in 1994 to assist students applying for national fellowship competitions,
and the Study Abroad Office which assists students in pursuing education overseas.
Boren Scholarships are sponsored by the National Security Education Program and allow undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests but underrepresented in study abroad. Students interested in Boren and other national fellowships should contact the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs at 777-0958 or visit their website.