UB Student Abbie Godoy Wins the Prestigious 2020 Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship – An Interview

For many final year University students, the New Year is all about winding down University life and preparing for graduation to finally enter into adulthood, but for one UB student, Abbie Godoy, it seems to be ramping up. Not only is she a prominent youth activist in Belize’s development space, which has seen her representing Belize at various international conferences and seminars; she is also now the recipient of the prestigious 2020 Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship.

2020 Recipient of the Prestigious Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship

If you had asked her a few months ago about her most recent accomplishment, Abbie would have never imagined herself sitting in Barbados’ Government House undergoing interviews by the Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship Committee; much less being selected, on November 27th, 2019, as the 2020 Recipient of the most Prestigious Scholarship Award, which affords her the opportunity to study at the world’s most distinguished University – Oxford. The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest, best known award for graduate study and is considered the most famous academic award. And for Abbie, even though the Committee decided she was eligible, she was still nervous. And as a San Ignacio resident with humble beginnings, this experience was exciting as it was terrifying.

However, for this outstanding young woman, who carries a mark of maturity juxtaposed with an essence of vitality, curiosity and a spirit that colors her path, she did not let the fact that she came from a small country and a lesser known University deter her from an opportunity, where most everything points her to realizing her educational goals.

Upon closer inspection, you’ll also notice that Abbie gave much thought to what she envisioned and wanted her future to be. Ahead, she shares more on her life, her experience during the process, and her plans for her future.

Tell us about yourself?

I was born in La Loma Luz Adventist Hospital in Santa Elena and was raised in San Ignacio. When I was three years old, my Father, Luis Godoy, left the country; and I was raised by my Mother, Brenda Guillen, alongside my older siblings, Luby and Loui Godoy. My Mother’s family played an important role in my upbringing and development. My Mother enrolled at UB when I was very young. She pursued her Bachelors in Primary Education in order to better provide for us. I academically excelled in Primary School, and was valedictorian of Santa Elena Evangelical Holiness Academy in 2010. After graduating, I received my secondary schooling at Sacred Heart College, where I struggled academically because the only courses I could take were in Business or Science, which never interested me.

I was always talkative and active in my after school life. For my high school graduation in 2014, I received a special award in recognition of my dedication to Extracurricular Activities.

Abbie and her family

What are all the extracurricular activities you partake in? How has this helped you in your life and how do you feel this helped you in this application process?

I have been involved in various organizations, which included the Belize Red Cross, the Belize Disaster and Rescue Team, UNICEF, Rotaract, Friends for Conservation and Development Environmental Youth Group, the National Committee for Families and Children: Informed Teen Reporter and Fridays for Future.

I also currently serve as the Secretary of Programming in UB’s Student Government, and I am a member of the History Club at the University of Belize.

Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. At ten years old, I started to tag along with my sister, Luby, who was an active member of our local Red Cross. From there, my passion grew, and I made sure to always be involved in my community. I figured I couldn’t help anyone financially, but could donate my time and effort. This has shaped who I am because it has made me believe in myself and my capabilities. I can impact my community and my country. All it takes is effort and lots of dedication.

For this application process, my community involvement was vital. Being an activist for change showed the Rhodes Selection Committee that I wasn’t waiting for an opportunity to change things. I was out there being the change.

What program are you currently enrolled in at UB and why did you choose this?

I am currently enrolled as a BA student in English. Choosing this course was very easy, I have always enjoyed reading, and have a passion for writing.

How did you learn about this scholarship program and what made you apply?

I learned about the Rhodes through personal research online. I chose to apply jokingly at first knowing that this was the preeminent graduate scholarship or as I like to refer to it, The Miss Universe of Scholarships. I told myself you probably don’t stand a chance, but it doesn’t hurt to try. As I continued my application process I grew very serious about it, and was determined to put my all into it. I have to thank my lecturers at the Faculty of Education and Arts: Dr. Marfield, Dr. De Shield, Dr. Hampton and Ms. Kelly for writing my academic references. When I finally submitted my application all I could do was pray because it was completely out of my control.

Describe your experience during the application process?

The application process is very standard and easy to follow. However, there is a personal statement section which was difficult to write. I had to tell the committee who I was and why I deserved this scholarship. For any twenty-year-old in University knowing who you are is hard. So, I chose to write an honest representation of myself following my stream of consciousness while being mindful of what it entails to be a Rhodes Scholar.

Did you expect to win? What was your initial thought when you heard you won?

The interview process was the worst days of my life. On Saturday, November 23rd, I said goodbye to my family and made my way to Barbados, where I can honestly say there wasn’t a day I didn’t cry. It was a new place, and you are alone. At first, I didn’t know if I was supposed to mingle with other candidates, if they would be nice or would we all just hate each other. These preconceptions proved to be the farthest thing from the truth. Being a candidate meant only you could understand each other and the experience. Joel Balkaran, Jodhan Medina, Janielle Brown and Zandra Gomes are honestly the glue that held me together as tensions grew and the anxiety went through the roof.

When I was announced the winner, I was in complete shock. Me, little Abbie from even smaller Belize and the tiniest university present had won. I had been chosen from a group of people who are the brightest in all of the Caribbean. Getting over my shock took hours, but these candidates were genuinely happy for me and it made the process a lot easier. The following days were surreal as my face and name were front page news in almost all the CARICOM countries, which I had never expected, but I knew that the win came with a lot of responsibility.

You are currently studying English at UB; however, Developmental Economics is a big shift from English. What was the thought process behind this shift and why did you choose this area of study?

I actually selected an MPhil in Development Studies. In my English program at UB, we are constantly challenged to engage in the theory, rhetoric and discourse of identity, post colonialism and its relevant socio-political ideologies. So the shift is using what I already know in the context of how the developing world is constructed and affected by this, and how do developing countries move forward and addressing our developmental challenges. In truth, it’s really a combination of my academic interests and extracurricular activities.

There is no guarantee that I will be accepted into the course, but there will be an advising process through the Rhodes House that aims at making sure I select the right course that fits my goals.

How do you feel UB has prepared you to undertake this study?

The University of Belize provided me, for the most part, with lecturers who were capable and devoted to their work. They provided me with quality education, even when resources and funding were limited. Honestly, in my interview, I mentioned that the University needs to find alternative funding because with the recent tuition increases people from low middle income families like myself will be unable to attend, and the potential is lost right there at first contact. This, however, is a socio-political issue that the leaders of the nation need to address. Tertiary education is not luxury item; it is not a privilege; it is a necessity.

What role did UB have in helping to shape your world view and in shaping you personally to make you want to engage in such an area of study?

Studying at UB requires a lot of your own personal research and effort. It is a community with its own culture. It forces you to engage with people from all sorts of different backgrounds, and that creates a diverse and unique experience. However, it is up to you the student to apply yourself and make the best of what UB has to offer.

What advice do you have for other UB students who would like to follow in your footsteps but may feel discouraged, particularly given that UB is such a small school compared to other well-known universities? 

If you don’t try, you will never succeed. UB might be small, but you can achieve greatness because you’re given the tools; it is a matter of how you use them. Sitting in a room with people from Harvard, UWI and Howard University is scary and intimidating, but you have to believe in yourself. You have to fight and never give up because success isn’t by chance.

I was chosen because despite all the odds being stacked against me. I made the best of what I had and I wasn’t going to let circumstance dictate my future.

What are your plans after completing your degree and how do you intend to use your degree to help Belize?

I plan to return home and work to create and build a better Belize. Whether it be through policy, social activism or a combination of both, I aim to improve the standard of living of all Belizeans.

My dream is also to be a lecturer at the University where I can help to develop and teach courses that allow Belizean students to explore diverse interests. My choices, like many Belizean students, are and have always been limited, but I hope that with my help, it won’t be the same for those younger than me.

Abbie Godoy has made history for being the first Belizean female and the second Belizean to be conferred with this prestigious Scholarship Award. She is also the first UB student to be named a Rhodes Scholar. The Board of Trustees, the President and Administration, Staff, Faculty and Students of the University of Belize wish her all the best in her future studies at Oxford!


To Abbie:

Continue to strengthen your voice, continue to be a change agent and don’t lose the passion and curiosity you have for learning. Mother Theresa said– ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’ As such, continue to develop the tools that will enable you to cast the stone and create many ripples. Continue to shine and make yourself, your family, your friends and all of us at UB proud.