Why did you decide to study abroad?
I originally decided to go abroad because my school has very interesting public health study abroad programs. I knew people who had been on these programs, and they all said that learning about public health in a different country reaffirmed their interest in the field. Since I worked in a public health internship in my hometown of Chicago last summer, I was hoping to get a different perspective this summer in order to compare the two. Thus, my academic interests were a large part of my decision to study abroad.
How did you pay for your study abroad experience?
The decision to study abroad was definitely a significant one, because my family is already contributing a lot to my college education. However, due to the courses I took abroad, I will be able to graduate a quarter early from undergrad, which will be a significant financial benefit. In addition, the Diversity Network Summer Scholarship was extremely helpful with my tuition. I also received a scholarship from my academic program at school, the Sherman Travel Fund Scholarship.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?
Before going abroad, I wish I had known how important it would be to have conversations with locals. I am a relatively shy person, so I was not expecting to talk to as many people as I did. I feel like, for the first half of my trip, I was much more shy, so I missed out on some valuable conversations. However, I tried to make up for this in the second half by talking to as many people as possible, and learning from all their stories.
On a more logistical note, I would recommend keeping track of spending in order to stay on a budget. Before going abroad, I was basically clueless about how much I should be spending every week in a different country. Thus, I wish I had done more research on local pricing so I would have had a better budget set up before landing in a new country.
Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
I identify as an Indian-American woman. Before going abroad, I had heard warnings about the Balkan region being racially homogeneous. Thus, I was expecting a great deal of stares, if not worse. In Serbia, I did feel out of place at times, but I never directly experienced anything worse than staring. Although this did make me uncomfortable, I learned to walk with confidence and not be fazed by the looks others gave me, because they were rarely malicious. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, I experienced much less discomfort, possibly because they have a larger Middle Eastern population, so my skin tone and other features did not stand out as much. I found this very interesting, because, before entering the region, I had assumed that both nations would be the same. However, actually living in each country showed me how vastly different they really were.
How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
One thing I had not really expected to experience while abroad was a shift in my future career plans. I have always wanted to be a doctor, and I did not really think this would change. After this experience, I know I still want to become a doctor, but seeing how much people give of themselves to help better their communities, made me realize that I want to find and work in a community or field of medicine that makes me want to give that much of myself to my work in order to, for lack of a better phrase, “change the world” in whatever small way I can. Rather than becoming complacent working in a hospital or clinic, I hope to work around the country, and the world, to help better the lives of those who need it most. I also know that, if I do work abroad, I now have a better understanding of the amount of cultural history there is in any nation. Rather than just entering blindly into a country and attempting to fix their problems, I hope I have the chance to immerse myself in the culture of whatever country I work in so that I can understand what treatments and methods would work best in this specific region.