From Study Abroad to the Peace Corps – Alumni Q&A

Kate Samuel studied abroad in Bangalore, India, in Fall 2016. This year she graduated from the University of South Carolina and she will be a Public Health Educator in Peru for 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer. She will most likely be working with HIV/AIDS. In this Q&A, Kate talks about her time in India and how it led her to her next step in the Peace Corps.

Why did you decide to study abroad in India?

In my freshman year, I became involved with a club called Indian Cultural Exchange and learned a lot about Indian culture. Most of my best friends at UofSC were Indian and they were very encouraging. I specifically chose India because I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone.

What goals did you have for studying abroad?

I wanted to challenge myself. I was a Rotary Youth Exchange student in high school in Tenerife, Spain, so I wanted to live somewhere a bit more challenging which is why I chose India. I wanted to experience what life was like in a developing nation.

What was your favorite course during your time abroad and why?

I took many courses that I loved. Some of my favorites were “Caste, Class, Gender” and the religion courses on Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. “Caste, Class, Gender” was a discussion course in which we discussed the history of India when it became independent from Britain, the history of the “dancers” for Hindu temples, migration patterns and how venereal diseases were spread due to this, stigma of HIV, child brides and widows, and many more controversial topics.

How did your classes abroad relate to your major back home?

I graduated with a Public Health degree from the University of South Carolina with a cognate in Religious Studies. Some of the courses fit perfectly with Public Health especially the Service Learning course in which we volunteered in the slums around Bangalore. As for the religion courses, they also fulfilled requirements. Many of the courses I took fulfilled the core competency requirements back home.

What surprised you about studying in Bangalore?

India and the United States are very different countries. Indians eat with their right hand, use squatty potties, enjoy spicy food, wear different clothing, have different values and cultural rules. Culture shock is real but manageable. After adjusting to the differences in the Bangalore lifestyle and acknowledging that different doesn’t mean worse or better, culture shock will go away.

Do you feel your study abroad experience helped you get into the Peace Corps?

Living in India truly opened my eyes to how different yet similar people live around the world. Although our lifestyles and habits are different, people across different countries all desire the same general things: family, friends, education, etc. Living in a developing country like India prepared me for living two years in Peru in the Peace Corps. When interviewing for the Peace Corps position, I referenced my experiences in India because I did have to adapt my lifestyle in order to succeed in school, make friends, and enjoy my four months.

What did you learn about yourself during your study abroad?

I learned that it doesn’t matter where you are; what matters is your company. Studying abroad can be a challenging thing and you have to be open-minded and learn to make friends with those around you. I learned to appreciate the little things a lot more as well. For example, where I stayed, the hot water was run by solar energy which meant that some days I would not have hot water. The little things in life that we take for granted are truly so important and I am thankful that I can recognize those things easier now.

In what ways were you pushed out of your comfort zone and how did that help you grow as a person?

1. The food. Some of the food was just not for me. It was a challenge at first to know what to order and then to find something easy on the stomach. They did have a Pizza Hut nearby, surprisingly, so when I was tired of Indian food, I could eat Pizza Hut.
2. Traveling India as a woman is not something you see often. My friends and I would travel all around the country- only three of us girls at a time. We received stares for being on our own. We had to travel more carefully and be more cautious of our surroundings than if we were men.
3. The culture and norms. For example, lines do not exist in India. It took awhile to adjust to cutting through a line when people are taking too long.

What advice do you have for someone considering studying abroad or not?

Always say yes to any opportunity to live in another country. You can read books and watch documentaries, but there is no comparison to meeting amazing new friends, missing your train and having to sleep on a train floor, sitting under the tree where Buddha became enlightened, bathing in the Ganges River, attending the World’s Largest Camel Festival- all which I did during my semester in India. Always, always say yes because the regret for not taking advantage of your opportunities is worse than temporary culture shock and homesickness. You are missing out on a lot more by not taking advantage of an adventurous opportunity.

I love USAC and I always suggest it to my friends still in college deciding what company to study abroad with. It is affordable and has so many people who truly care.

Learn More About Studying Abroad in India