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Fico will spend the next 10 months in Bogota, Colombia.
August 25, 2015

UMass Boston Alum Awarded Fulbright to Teach in Colombia


  • Boston

Starting this month, UMass Boston alumna Dina Fico ’15 will wake up in her apartment in Bogota, Colombia, and walk to her job as a Fulbright teaching assistant in one of Latin America’s largest cities.

She is teaching English and sharing U.S. culture with students during her 10-month appointment at Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios, a top Catholic university.

The Dina Fico of three years ago would be shocked by this turn of events.

Back then, the Reading native was a first-generation university student from a family who “believed that you go to college for Point A to Point B – very concrete, technical things.” She was studying pharmacy, with dreams of medical school.

But Fico soon realized a career in medicine was not the only way to pursue her passion of improving public health. She transferred to UMass Boston, where she majored in women’s and gender studies. Placidina Fico

“When I realized that’s not the case and not really where my passion’s at and what I want to do – it was very liberating,” she said. “I’m much more happy where I’m at than if I was applying to medical school.”

At UMass Boston, Fico met two professors who would help her turn her passions into plans. One was Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Aminah Pilgrim, who identified in Fico a previously undiscovered talent for teaching.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with women’s and gender studies and public health, and she took me out to lunch one day and she was like, ‘I see it in you to become a professor,’” Fico recalled. “And we had a really long talk, and things kind of made sense to me. It just kind of clicked.”

Another key figure was Associate Professor of English Louise Penner, who guides the application process for UMass Boston’s Fulbright candidates. The program is famously competitive and draws applicants from all over the world. Fico said Penner helped her make a persuasive case to the Fulbright selection committee.

The crux of the Fulbright application is a pair of personal essays, and Penner “was really good helping me at developing a narrative and linking everything together,” Fico said.

“I didn’t really realize, until I started the process, how many experiences in my life that I thought were separate and had nothing to do with each other, how they all kind of coalesced to bring me to where I am now,” she added.

The Fulbright assistantship won’t be Fico’s first experience in Colombia. She spent 10 weeks there in 2013, just before enrolling at UMass Boston, as a volunteer with Amigos de las Americas, an international nonprofit that trains young people to be catalysts for change. She immediately fell in love with the country, and “the idea was planted to maybe go back one day.”

While in Colombia, Fico is also volunteering with organizations committed to providing women with access to safe abortions, a procedure that is still largely illegal there.

When her Fulbright appointment ends, she plans to backpack through South America before returning home to begin a master’s in social work program at Boston University, where she will focus on abortion policy.