When Tupelo native Catherine Servati reached her senior year in college, she thought her chance to study abroad had passed. But an unexpected scholarship has this University of Mississippi English major studying this semester at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The scholarship, which covers all of Servati’s expenses above her regular UM tuition, was awarded by the Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium. SECAC is a voluntary alliance of the 12 SEC schools that provides funds to send one student from each member school to Queens University.
While abroad, Servati is studying Irish literature, theology and culture, which are new areas of study for her. She says she is interested in using her knowledge of Southern culture to compare religious tensions in Ireland, which have been as severe as racial tensions once were in the American South.
During their time at Queens, all SECAC scholars live in the dormitories, eat on the student meal plans and use Belfast’s public transit system. The estimated cost of the trip, including travel, housing, meals and personal expenses would regularly be more than $20,000, said UM Study Abroad Adviser Maury Breazeale.
Servati first heard about the SECAC scholarship program in fall 2008 from an administrator in UM’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, where she is enrolled. “After I first heard about the scholarship, I kind of kept it in the back of my mind for a while,” she said. “I figured this was just too good an opportunity to not pursue.”
Servati will return to UM for the fall 2009 semester to finish her senior honors thesis, a paper examining Dave Egger’s “What Is the What,” a book regarded as a poignant blend of fiction and nonfiction that tells the life story of a young male Sudanese refugee. Her paper will apply the book’s themes to a group of Sudanese refuges who live in Jackson and are known as The Lost Boys. She first encountered this group of young men last summer when she was an intern with the Mississippi Teacher Corps. As part of her internship, she created a short documentary on the men’s journey from Sudan to their new life in Jackson. Her final project was a series of interviews with the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
After college, Servati is considering applying to law school and eventually working in education; however, she does not want to be an educator. She said she does not see herself creating lesson plans as much as writing legal briefs and working with the educational policymakers of tomorrow. Servati, who attended public schools in Tupelo, said her ideal vision is helping Mississippi become a place where quality education is not determined by birthright and geography.
“Catherine is a natural leader; she is one of those glue-type people,” said Benjamin Guest, program director for the Mississippi Teacher Corps. “She is just always positive and always bringing people together.”
For more information on UM’s Office of Study Abroad, go to http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/study_abroad/ .