Vancouver student Melissa Godin named 2017 Rhodes Scholar

A photo of Melissa Godin while studying abroad in Florence, Italy.
A photo of Melissa Godin while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Camille LeBlanc

A New York University student from West Vancouver has been selected as a 2017 Rhodes Scholar, a prestigious annual scholarship to the University of Oxford worth over $100,000.

The award is given to 95 students around the world each year who show not only academic success but the ability to better society.

Melissa Godin, who will graduate from NYU’s Global Liberal Studies program in May, was selected for her work researching the impacts of volunteer tourism.

“It has been surreal and a huge privilege to be awarded this prestigious scholarship,” Godin told Global News. “I have dreamed of going to Oxford my entire life and I am incredibly excited to be a part of that community.”

She became interested in the subject after travelling to Cambodia in 2015 to research orphanage tourism and discovered corruption, including sexual abuse.

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“This experience made me realize that well-intentioned volunteers were in some cases complicit in the very problems they aimed to alleviate,” Godin said in a statement.

She later started an advocacy campaign, Not a Saviour, to highlight the issue and raise awareness. She currently hosts a podcast on the topic on iTunes.

Godin was born in Montreal but was raised in Vancouver and attended Mulgrave School in West Vancouver. It was there that she began studying human trafficking after news broke of a prostitution ring in the affluent district.

By 2016, she was serving as head editor for a report on sex trafficking that was featured at the 60th United Nations session of the Commission on the Status of Women, coordinating the TEDxNYU event, and helping to launch a new magazine, Hey Girl Global.

But her success wasn’t without obstacles. At the age of 16, she had a figure skating accident that left her with a severe head injury and chronic pain.

The injuries meant she had to finish school part-time and submit her essays through audio recordings as her ability to read and write was limited.

“After that, everyone told me there would be all these things that I would never be able to do, but that inspired me to push harder,” said Godin. “I knew if I could get through that, I could get through anything. It gave me a different idea of boundaries.”

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With the scholarship, Godin will pursue a Masters of Philosophy in development studies at Oxford.

“Perhaps what is most exciting about this award is the opportunity it will give me to come to a greater understanding of the development issues that I am extremely passionate about, alongside the world’s most renowned scholars and a diverse group of intellectually stimulating peers,” she added.