Leaving a legacy: Jeannette Myrick leads life of scholarship and service
With a passion for service, USF alumna Jeannette Myrick continues to reach new heights and inspire others with her “servant’s heart” as she embarks on a new journey as a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan.
Myrick graduated in spring 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology and was selected among a group of 145 students across the country to teach English in Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar while serving as cultural ambassador for the U.S.
The program was set to last a year, beginning in August 2020. However, due to the pandemic, the start date was pushed to January and the program was shortened to six months. Myrick will call Taipei City home until she comes back to the U.S. in July.
When she first arrived in Taiwan, Myrick was forced into a strict quarantine period in which she had to isolate herself in a hotel room for 14 days without going outside or socializing with anyone. The only natural light came from a small window facing an alley, she said. The lifeless view was one of many issues she had to cope with during the isolation period.
“The only people I saw were on the TV. That’s it,” Myrick said. “I knew I would have to go through it but I wasn’t expecting it to be so strict.”
The weeks following her isolation period were filled with training sessions and online conferences about the program as she prepares to co-teach English to first- and second-graders starting Feb. 22.
With the training coming to a close, Myrick has been able to spend some time preparing her lesson plans as well as exploring the city.
“It looks like I’m going to be doing a lot of reading and lesson planning and conversation classes and stuff like that, but I love doing that so I feel like I’m going to have a good time, because first- and second-graders are absolutely adorable.”
She was inspired to pursue a Fulbright scholarship by her own experiences studying abroad in the Dominican Republic her freshman year at USF in December 2016 and in Thailand in summer 2018 through the Judy Genshaft Honors College. Being the first person in her family to get a passport, Myrick was determined to study abroad and explore a new culture through the opportunity to give back rather than leisure.
“After I was finished with those trips I was like, ‘I definitely want to keep traveling,’ but I just didn’t know a way to do it,” she said. “Not just travel, but actually have some sort of positive impact in whatever community I go to and basically have an exchange with the community that I’m in.
“The more I read about [the Fulbright program], the more I felt like the goals really aligned with what I wanted to do because Fulbright is all about that scholarly exchange so you’re not just taking from the country or the nation that you’re going to, you’re giving back and you’re going there to be a representative of the U.S., and to make sure that … you’re doing something to help the community. So that’s exactly what I was looking for.”
The first time she left the country in 2016, Myrick was determined to make an impact. Her time in the Dominican Republic was the start of many other journeys which later ignited her desire to serve internationally and explore different cultures.
During her monthlong trip in the Dominican Republic, Myrick had the opportunity to work with local doctors, serve in the community as well as immerse herself in the culture by learning some Spanish and Dominican traditions.
The experience, she said, had an immeasurable impact on her life, setting the foundation for what she hopes to do in her future career in the medical field.
“I’ve never been abroad and I didn’t know what to expect. But the more the people embraced me there, the more I was able to do good. I was like, ‘Oh wow, like this is something that I enjoy doing.’ And then I got to, of course, interact with the kids, and so all the children won my heart over. So that really had a big impact on me.”
The drive to serve her community came from the values instilled by her family while she was growing up. Joseph Myrick, her father, described Jeannette as a selfless woman with a “servant’s heart.”
“She’s always had a servant heart, and I teach my girls that they are blessed to have the support they have, the parents they have, the environment they have, this community they have … that’s why we enjoy watching her serve the community because she understands that we have to give back,” he said.
Two years later, Jeannette was offered the opportunity to study abroad in Thailand alongside a group of female students through the Judy Genshaft Honors College to work with Peacework, an organization bringing college students into communities abroad to help young women and children at risk of human trafficking.
“Being able to interact with them and realize that this was a big problem that we need to address … was eye-opening, and I knew that I really wanted to do more in this community, whether it be … primarily through education and making sure that young women have an opportunity to get out,” she said.
“A lot of times, they don’t have the tools to put food on the table and clothes on their backs, and therefore [they are more susceptible to human trafficking]. That was pretty much the reason why we were there, to show them what you could do, what you can be and give them certain tools … and bring them confidence and say, ‘No, you can.’”
During her time working with Peacework, Jeannette helped young women develop their skills and provide support and resources to succeed in future endeavors. In turn, she said she ended up learning a lot more about herself than she ever imagined.
“That was that trip that got me really hooked onto education as a tool for helping people or like for people to succeed,” she said. “Even though you start in one place … education can really really help you get to that next step in life.”
While it was difficult for her father to see his daughter traveling out of the country, he said those experiences were the ones that had a significant impact in her life.
“So, because she’s had these opportunities and she worked for it, we have nothing but support for anything she needs and make sure she has it in order to accomplish her goals,” Joseph said.
“We teach our kids, ‘Don’t have blinders on.’ There’s a big whole wide world out there that is waiting for bright, articulate, young women and young kids to conquer and to learn. We teach our kids [that] if you have an opportunity to go abroad, do it. It’s not going to do anything but make you a better person.”
Through her trips to Thailand and the Dominican Republic, Jeannette said she discovered her passion to work within the fields of public health and humanities, both of which she plans to focus on as she continues her education.
“I think that I needed to have those experiences in order to … change the trajectory [of my life]. When I was able to be in the community and interact with people and work toward a goal that really impacted people firsthand, that’s what lit a fire in me and that’s what made me very passionate,” she said. “So I realized that I needed to shift trajectories, and I feel like if I had not gone on both study abroad trips, I wouldn’t have landed where I am now.”
Once Jeannette returns from her trip to Taiwan in July, she will start getting ready for a new adventure at Boston University where she will pursue a master’s degree in public health. Influenced by her experiences abroad, Jeannette hopes to work in maternal and child health as well as epidemiology after graduation.
“Maternal [and] child health is where my heart lies … by making sure that women and children have the support, the health resources, education and stuff that they need to thrive … and also helping women get out of horrible situations,” Jeannette said. “I’ve been leaning toward either immigrant health with women and children or human trafficking and continuing that journey and seeing where that takes me.”
While it was challenging to cope with a new culture across the world, Jeannette said the support system her family and close friends became for her is what has been helping her navigate the new experience. Despite the 13-hour time difference between Taiwan and the U.S., she said nothing is able to keep her apart from her loved ones.
“I have a really strong support system at home,” Jeannette said. “So I wake up early if need be, or go to bed pretty late and maybe talk to the people back home, whether it be my family or my friends. Always having them as a lifeline to remind me that ‘You’re doing good, you’re doing OK, you got this,’ [it has] really been helpful for me.”
For her father, feeling proud of her accomplishments is an understatement.
“She stays humble and connected to her values and that, no matter how much she’s done and how much she’s accomplished so young, she understands that the person who cleans the bathroom is just as important as a person to win the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said. “She understands that in order for her to accomplish things, there were people along the way who have helped her and guided her.”
With tears streaming down her face, Jeannette emphasized how influential her family is in her life and how grateful she is for all the sacrifices made to raise her and her sister.
“I don’t know where I’d be without support from my family,” she said. “People talk about the story of coming from nothing to becoming something [and my parents] definitely are those people to me. When I was born, they had already come out of the poverty that they both were in. So, I didn’t necessarily have to experience … what they had to go through when they were younger and with their families.
“Being able to hear their stories about growing up in a small town with a large family [and] with very little money … [to] where they are now, that’s what keeps me going. Like, I can’t regress. I have to keep going because they did all that for me so I can’t go backward.”
Inspired by Jeannette’s adventures across the world, Jordon Myrick, her sister, has also decided to get her passport and travel abroad in the summer. She said Jeannette’s hard work, persistence and dedication inspired her to follow the same path.
“I really think [the most] noticeable thing about Jeanette is how hardworking she is,” Jordon said. “Whenever she puts her mind to something she won’t stop at anything until she accomplishes it.”
Her support system branches out far beyond her home. Shalini Pandey, whom she met on her trip to the Dominican Republic, also recognizes the dedication Jeannette puts into the work she does.
“She has a lot of integrity, and she’s really, really hardworking, like she can just grind out hours and hours with her head down in the books and studying,” Pandey said. “And if she sets a goal, she gets it done, no matter what obstacles are in the way.”
Jeannette has been like this all her life, according to her father. Hard work is in her nature.
“Her biggest quality is that she has an insatiable desire to succeed in everything she does,” Joseph said.
With all of life’s twists and turns, Jeannette always took advantage of a new adventure. Now, as she prepares to enter a new chapter of her life, she believes all her experiences have led her to where she is today.
“You’ve got to keep your doors open … do what you love to do, make sure you do that. Don’t shut doors just because you think it’s not going to make sense because none of the stuff I’ve done made sense,” she said.
“But somehow, it does get to the point I see how all the little ABCs could be jumbled up letters, they all somehow make a pattern and it works, it makes a picture like, ‘Oh, that’s the next step for my life.’”