University of Cape Town Exchange, Semester
Class of 2011: Biology with certificate in Global Cultures
What have you been doing since completing your study abroad program(s)?
I completed my study abroad program in the midst of the 2010 South Africa World Cup madness. It was such an incredible time to be in South Africa, and it was disappointing to leave in the middle of it all (although I did bring back a vuvuzela).
I had such a great experience and I knew I wanted more, so during my senior year, I applied to the Peace Corps. Shortly after my graduation from UW in 2011, I began what would end up being three years of service in the Peace Corps as a high school science teacher in Guinea. In 2014, I was evacuated from Guinea due to the Ebola outbreak.
Upon my return, I worked briefly as an international student advisor at a local university before starting a master’s program. In 2016, I completed a Master of Public Health degree at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, focusing on epidemiology and infectious diseases.
Since then, I’ve interned at the Baltimore City Health Department, worked as an Epidemiology Fellow at the Department of Defense, and I just started a new position as a Global Health Program Manager for a non-profit public health organization in Washington D.C.
A reflection on your study abroad experience: How did your time overseas impact your life, your goals, and your career?
My semester in Cape Town has impacted my life in almost every way and has been a driving force in my career decisions. My study abroad experience not only inspired me to apply to the Peace Corps, but it gave me the tools I needed to be a successful Peace Corps Volunteer – adaptability, creativity, and resilience.
The practical life lessons I learned during my study abroad program were invaluable; from the outrageous example of how to avoid baboons breaking into a car, to the serious issue of protecting myself as a young woman in a big city, to the simple realization that a kind smile goes a long, long way. It gave me the confidence to live outside of my comfort zone and to navigate cultural hurdles. I have carried those lessons with me throughout my career in international education and global health.
Share with us a favorite memory from your study abroad days.
My favorite memories from South Africa are from my volunteer time with the student health and welfare organization, SHAWCO. Once a week, a group of us would take a 25 minute bus ride out to the township of Khayelitsha to tutor small groups of students in high school science.
Having the opportunity to spend time in the township and see a whole different world gave me a lot more perspective on South African history and politics that I never would’ve seen if I stayed near campus. I had the same students the whole semester and learned so much about their lives and culture. I still stay in touch with them today (they’re in college now).
What advice do you have for students returning from abroad?
Carry the lessons you learned during your study abroad with you wherever you go. The practical skills you learn abroad, like how to quickly make new friends, how to communicate in a different language or culture, or how to survive on your own will undoubtedly help you in your future career and travels.
Continue to keep an open mind about new cultures and share your experience with others who are less open minded. Stay in touch with your friends and classmates and try to connect with people from your study abroad country here in the U.S. Lastly, remember that the world is small and you never know whose path you will cross again.