Fourth-year spotlight: Caryl Merten


Having lived in Haiti during the earthquake, fourth-year Batten student Caryl Merten came to the University with a passion for international life. After serving two years as senior resident of the language houses, Merten will finish up a master’s degree at the University next year before pursuing work at an NGO.
Image courtesy of Caryl Merten

After growing up overseas and living in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, fourth-year Batten student Caryl Merten never envisioned herself attending the University.

“I had this perception about U.Va. that it was very privileged and that the student body was homogenous,” Merten said. “During Days on the Lawn, everyone was so talkative and friendly and much more diverse than I expected. … [I’ve learned] there really is no typical U.Va. experience.”

Four years later, Merten has held various leadership positions in the University community, including Senior Resident for the language houses on Grounds.

“I’ve been the Senior Resident for the language houses for two years now,” Merten said. “The job involves working closely with a group of RAs. … It’s a really cool job because every house is so different and there are different challenges that come with each house.”

Merten applied to work for Housing and Residence Life after living in the International Residential College her first year under the supervision of an RA, who remains a close friend and mentor.

“I also absolutely adored my first-year RA,” said Merten. “She really did introduce me to the U.Va. community. I was an RA in the IRC my second year, and from there I switched over to language houses.”

In addition to her job as Senior Resident, Merten was also the president of Phi Sigma Pi Honor Fraternity.

“[For PSP] I rushed my first year just on a whim,” Merten said. “I lived at the IRC, which I absolutely adored, but I was looking for ways to get more involved in the community outside of the IRC.”

Throughout her years at the University, Merten also was a member of the Volunteers with International Students and Scholars program.

“I would meet weekly with an international student and help [him] with [his] conversational English,” Merten said. “Through speaking with a Chinese graduate student, I learned a lot about Chinese culture. It taught me a lot about how closed U.Va. is but also how open it is, because we have all these unique people here on Grounds.”

Merten continued to broaden her horizons this year by joining the Salsa Club.

“I wanted to try something new,” Merten said. “I’m not a great dancer and haven’t gone to too many practices, but next year I want to try to get in on the showcase. I’ve loved how open and accepting that group is.”

Merten plans to stay one extra year at the University while earning her master’s in Public Policy at the Batten School. Looking back on her four years as an undergraduate student, Merten said she recognizes the valuable lessons her leadership positions have taught her for the future.

“I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is holding myself accountable for my actions,” Merten said. “You always are taught that idea from a young age, but particularly being at U.Va. in these leadership experiences that comes into play a lot more. … I’ve [also] learned how to be more confident in myself, in my actions and my beliefs while also being open-minded to other people’s beliefs.”

After finishing her master’s next year, Merten plans to take her Foreign Service Exam and apply to work for a variety of NGOs.

“I want to do something that’s hopefully helpful to someone in the world and is something that I enjoy doing,” Merten said.

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