#StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

Allison Buzzanga's picture

Sam Parker is a 25 year old living in Philadelphia, and is currently in school to become an occupational therapist. She's passionate about travel, philly, yoga, anything Harry Potter, and her two fur babies Luna(tic) and Artemis(Chievous). 

Sam Parker: #StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
My decision was spur of the moment to study abroad. I was originally a nursing major, which equals no time to study abroad. When I switched my major to Public Health, I still didn’t think studying abroad was an option. I received an email from my advisor regarding a trip to India that could count towards 2 classes for Public Health. I signed up a week before the deadline, and left to study abroad about a month later. Half of my friends didn’t even know I was going.

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed? 
I had one of the best experiences a person could ask for in regards to studying abroad in India. At my college, there is an anthropology professor who is actually a Prince in a rural area of the North-West region of India. He organized the whole trip, from staying in his guest palace with running American toilets, to workers who cooked every meal and a driver who drove us wherever we wanted in his Ricksha. Did I mention we also had a yogi guru that came to the palace every morning at 6 am to teach us real eastern Yoga? It was pretty much a story book experience and about a third of the cost of the usual study abroad trip.

My favorite memory of the trip was when we drove to the salt desert (a salt lake that dries up in the summer, leaving behind salt to mine) at 4 AM to practice meditation with our yogi master Mehul, as the moon was setting and the sun was rising. I was also able to experience a real Indian wedding that lasted about 12 hours, and see a monsoon that wiped out all power and flooded the grounds in about 2 minutes. The monsoon led to a mud fight, which actually took out a friend’s eye (he ended up being okay after a day of wearing an eye patch). 

The major challenge I observed was having so much down time; however, it was also a blessing in disguise. Due to the town being so rural, power would shut off about three times a day. This would equal no air conditioning, no electronics, and no fun. However, my friend and I traveled into the town during one of the first power outages and decided to buy paints and canvases. After that, I spent all my down time painting, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. It was exhilarating and therapeutic at the same time.

Sam Parker: #StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 
As I mentioned above, I definitely developed my painting skills, which was something that was lackluster due to years of neglect. Although I went to India with a Public Health degree, I feel as though most of the trip was spent awakening my artistic side (something I was not expecting). I was the only health major besides a Grad student who was my mentor throughout the experience. Every other student was either studying art or anthropology. So I was able to be participate in all of their projects, which included films, fashion shows, and story writing. These students were some of the greatest and most unique people I have ever met and I was so privileged to be able to spend a whole summer surrounded by their creativity. It definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things and made me more open to experiences (I starred in a film where I was covered only in Nutella and scarfs...long story).

Sam Parker: #StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?
Although a lot of my down time during the trip was spent doing fun and artsy things, I also spent the majority of my time doing Public Health surveys and child malnutrition studies within the Indian school system. I was able to travel around to different neighborhoods, interviewing residents on their smoking and health habits. With the information I brought back, a professor and doctor at my university was able to put together a request for a grant to begin smoking cessation programs in rural parts of India. Because of my part in making this happen, I was immediately hired after college at a world-renowned hospital to help with the Public Health Research department. 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad? 
I would suggest to look into all options out there, not just at your school. The opportunity I had was one of a kind, and definitely the cheapest way to go. We had a couple of students from different universities that were a part of the trip because they read online about it. If you find a place you want to go to, look around at other trips that offer better deals/experiences and pick the one that is right for you and your financial situation. The other part of this is to always go into these experiences with an open mind, otherwise it’s not worth it. Don’t go to another country just to stare at your phone/laptop all day obsessed with what is going on back at home. Get out and experience the culture, make new friends, and grow! That’s the whole point of studying abroad, right?! 

Sam Parker: #StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
I am more sensitive and connected to the Indian culture since my trip. Now whenever I meet a new Indian friend, I ask questions about what state they’re from and can relate to certain cultural gestures (I swear I was bopping my head side to side for a month after I came back). I am more educated in the caste system that is still a huge part of the Indian culture and also their religion. 

Sam Parker: #StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? 
I believe EVERY person should go abroad. I think that a lot of students believe that if they are a certain major, or don’t really have anywhere they are dying to go, they shouldn’t waste the money. However, as I said, my trip was so inexpensive and I was still able to apply two credits towards my health major. Always ask your advisor if you find something, because a lot of the times they can bend the rules and have a credit apply towards your degree one way or another. Any experience abroad can shape you into a well-rounded, enlightened person - which can help you down the road. Many jobs look to see if a student studied abroad, and will be likely to hire someone with the experience over someone without.

#Studyabroadbecause it shapes who you’ll become.

Sam Parker: #StudyAbroadBecause it shapes who you’ll become

Ally Buzzanga, our study abroad editor, is a 25 year old postgraduate who’s passionate about cultural shock, urban environments, and fish & chips. She notes, "I spent the fall of 2012 studying abroad in London and decided then that living and traveling abroad was something that I was passionate about. Study abroad programs are getting more and more popular in the US and that’s great. I’d love to see American culture fully embrace the “gap year” and “gone travelling” attitude that my foreign friends so casually mentioned. So many young people take the time to go on months-long journeys that are pretty much a rite of passage in their society. In the past 4 years, I’ve been able to see parts of the world I never even considered, from Europe to Africa and many a sheep-riddled village in the UK. I attribute so many of my skills and successes to my years spent outside of the US."


All photos courtesy and copyright Sam Parker