SIT Switzerland alum Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos named Rhodes Scholar

December 14th, 2023   |   Alumni, Scholarships, SIT Study Abroad

Jordan Geopolitics alum Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara is a 2024 finalist

A young person smiles while standing on a narrow walkway leading up a hill topped by a Swiss flag. The person wears a University of Michigan cap and a brown parka.
Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos on program in Switzerland

SIT Switzerland alum Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos is among 32 U.S. students selected as 2024 Rhodes Scholars. The select group—among only about 100 such scholars chosen each year in the world— will go to Oxford University in October 2024 to earn graduate degrees. Orozco Castellanos plans to pursue two master’s degrees: one in refugee studies and one in Latin American studies.

Orozco Castellanos, who participated in SIT Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy in spring 2022, was born and raised in Jalisco, Mexico. He migrated with his family to the United States and graduated from the University of Michigan in 2022 with a BA in international studies and minors in critical translation studies and Latin American and Caribbean studies. He is the third known SIT Study Abroad student named a Rhodes Scholar.

Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara, an alumnus of 2022 SIT Jordan: Geopolitics, International Relations & the Future of the Middle East, was named a 2024 Rhodes Scholar Finalist.

After the program was twice cancelled due to the pandemic, Orozco Castellanos was finally able to join it in spring 2022. He describes his experience as transformative, and said it confirmed his interest in pursuing a career in human rights, an idea born in high school in Mexico when he served as an NGO representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. His goal is to work in humanitarian relief or human rights advocacy for a global NGO or an international organization like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Among the most impactful experiences of his semester abroad, he said, was meeting the chair of the United Nations Committee Against Torture while working on his independent study project on the legal theory behind the UN Convention Against Torture and its applicability to non-state actors. “Being able to interview one of the world’s foremost human rights experts just outside the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was very special,” he told the UM newspaper The University Record.

Orozco Castellanos said he was impressed with the access he had to high-level professionals on his program. “Pretty much everybody I asked was willing to offer an interview, and I'm talking about very high-profile scholars and professionals,” he said.

But academics wasn’t the only memorable aspect of his study abroad experience. “That’s the part everyone talks about, and I know it sounds cliched, but I was in a homestay that was just incredible—probably one of the best experiences of my life.

“I know a lot of other students do programs where they stay on a college campus. But I was so grateful to do a homestay because I got to learn so much about Swiss culture. I made so many memories and met so many people.”

Orozco Castellanos said he sustained a foot injury during the last month of his program that required him to wear a cast and use crutches which prevented him from participating in hikes. “That was disappointing and stressful. But the folks on the SIT program were so nice and accommodating. They helped me explore health insurance abroad and all of those things that you never think about. I'm grateful for them because they went above and beyond to make sure that I still got to enjoy the program. I’m never going to forget my time there. It was so memorable and transformative.”

At the University of Michigan, Orozco Castellanos did a project on the Inter-American asylum regime and how the UNHCR operates in Mexico with support from the United States. “The mechanisms we have are very weak in the region compared to Europe,” he said. As a Rhodes Scholar, he said he hopes to strengthen the inter-American regime.

“The University of Oxford pioneered the field of refugee studies in the 1980s,” he told The University Record. “I am ecstatic to learn from some of the world’s most prominent experts in the field, many of whom have worked as humanitarians and have a holistic view of the realities of forced displacement.” 

“Migrants and displaced people deserve the same level of respect I have received,” he said, “and I hope to use my time at Oxford to work towards this goal, particularly during these dark times in humanity’s history.”

Prior to winning the Rhodes Scholarship, Emmanuel was the 2023 recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award for his approach to inclusive leadership and contributions to the field of international human rights, a 2021-2022 Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship winner, a five-term James B. Angell Scholar, and a 2020 UROP Blue Ribbon Award recipient for his role in developing the University of Michigan’s new responsive curriculum for international students. He received the Miguel Cabrera Scholarship and has presented and received awards for his research. As an undergraduate, he served as president of University of Michigan’s Global Scholars Program and wrote for the Michigan Journal of International Affairs.

Established in 1903, the Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and one of the most prestigious scholarship programs in the world. According to the Rhodes Trust, the overall global acceptance rate is 0.7 percent, making it one of the most competitive scholarships in the world.