GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.,  Nov. 14, 2023: Growing up in Grand Rapids, the world sometimes seemed pretty small to Francisco Arvizu-Mancilla.

Sure, there were times during his four years at Kenowa Hills High School where the idea of someday traveling outside of West Michigan, and even outside the U.S., sounded pretty good.

But realistically, he said, it was hard to picture.

“It just seemed like a fantasy,” he recalled recently. “Maybe something I would be able to achieve in my late 20s or maybe my 30s.”

But, thanks to the Grand Rapids Community College TRIO program,  Arvizu-Mancilla’s dreams came true this summer as he spent three weeks in the Netherlands as part of an international study abroad program through the Council for Opportunity in Education and the Keith Sherin Global Leaders Program.

Now, months after the experience, he’s still in wonder and grateful to GRCC for making the path possible for him.

“It all came so fast, but it was a truly amazing experience,” he said with a smile.

He first heard about the Keith Sherin Global Leaders program through his TRIO advisor. TRIO is a set of federally-funded college opportunity programs that provide academic advising, mentoring, financial guidance, counseling and other support to empower students that are traditionally underserved in higher education.

The Keith Sherin Global Leaders Program selects TRIO students from around the country for three weeks of study in the Netherlands each summer. The first week is a deep dive into the host country, and the next two weeks see students at The Hague Summer School, participating in courses that focus on addressing global challenges.

It all sounded pretty good to Arvizu-Mancilla, and with his interest suitably piqued, he applied, but, he added, without expecting too much.

When he found out he had been accepted, it didn’t immediately seem real, Arvizu-Mancilla said. But when it finally sunk in, he started to look forward to the trip and to prepare himself mentally.

What he found in the Netherlands was better than he dared imagine.

“I experienced so much personal and professional growth,” he said. “I got to meet and become networked with individuals from numerous countries, explored cool historical places and got to do some dining of cuisines not found here. Since this was my first time abroad, everything was different. The food, water, even the way the air smelled. It definitely opened up my perspective of the world.”

He also found that he fit in with the best and brightest from around the country.

“I think from a personal perspective it allowed me to prove to myself I am capable of applying to such programs in the future, and it allowed me to understand myself better,” he said.

The experience also solidified for Arvizu-Mancilla his plan to finish GRCC strong and then transfer to the University of Michigan to complete a bachelor’s degree, something that had been on his radar since he first decided to attend GRCC after high school.

Drawn to GRCC by “the low cost of tuition and the ability to avoid unnecessary debt for as long as I could,” he is now in his third and final year at the college and on his way to an associate degree in social and behavioral sciences.

As he looks ahead to graduation, with his summer experience still fresh in his mind, he has words of advice for his fellow college students, both in Grand Rapids and elsewhere.

“I would strongly encourage not just GRCC students but anyone to go and travel abroad,” he said. “It really does open one’s mind as to how the world functions and really opens up doors to many more opportunities.”