Lorena Macias-Navarro was born in Brazil, spent the first five years of her life in California, and then moved to Mexico for the rest of her childhood, so international travel didn't really faze her when it came time for college.
"I wanted to learn Portuguese," she says. "So before I started my undergraduate studies, I spent three months in Portugal." Her Mexican parents, she explains, spoke Portuguese.
As a high school senior, Macias-Navarro researched schools she could attend in Portugal to learn the language. She found housing in Portugal for the summer, and she and her mom flew there after graduation.
"I found a nice house full of girls," she says. "My mom came and saw that everything was OK, and then she left." Macias-Navarro spent the summer taking classes in Portuguese, history, and theater, before heading back to Mexico to start college.
She returned to Portugal for the next three summers, and spent the one after that studying in Madrid, Spain (and the summer after graduation studying business at Stanford University) before accepting a job as a food engineer with PepsiCo.
Her thoughts kept going back to Portugal—the people she'd met, the culture she'd experienced—and she made the decision that she'd rather work with children than in food development. She found a research program at the University of Arizona, applied, and spent 15 months there as a visiting scholar.
"I was working for the nutrition department in a program called Stealth Health," she says. "We promoted physical activity and nutrition knowledge through technology."
Macias-Navarro worked with teenagers in the community, all of whom were given smartphones. "We sent them text messages with information about nutrition, and also helped develop a web page with information about nutrition. Tucson has mountains, so we'd go hiking and use GPS to figure out where we'd been—the kids pinpointed on a map where they'd been and talked about where they'd hiked and what they liked about it," she says.
The experience made her even more determined to help children and families back at home with their eating and exercise habits, and at that point, Macias-Navarro decided that public policy was her true calling. After researching her options again, she applied to Tufts University for graduate school.
"The first semester, I realized I wanted to learn more about diplomacy as well," she says. "I'd traveled so much and I really liked that part of my experiences. So, I thought I'd make a joint degree."
Macias-Navarro spends half her time now studying at Tufts' School of Nutrition and the other half in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
With her joint degree, she says, she wants to help create policy that helps people in Mexico and Latin America.
"I'll never forget I am Mexican," she explains. "All of my efforts are focused on my roots and my culture. I want to use what I've learned to make a contribution to my country, but seeing what other countries are doing makes that happen."