Study abroad is a life-changing experience, and our program alumni are living proof that the decisions you make abroad can influence where life takes you after graduation. We love hearing from our alumni about how their time abroad has shaped their lives. We reconnected with some of them to learn more about their study abroad experiences and where they are now. Keep reading to hear from Brandon, a USAC Bengaluru alum.
Brandon is a Bachelor of Arts graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a recent Master of Arts graduate at Central European University in Vienna, Austria. Born in Trinidad, he immigrated to the United States at a young age, with just his mother, and made Nevada his permanent home. With his studies mirroring his dedication to leave a positive impact on the world, Brandon’s passion lies in international affairs.
He has spent considerable time researching ethnic conflict and security in Asia — it contributes to Brandon’s ultimate goal of serving the U.S. as a Foreign Service Officer. He spent half of 2016 studying, researching, and volunteering in Bengaluru, India, and in 2019, he made Central Europe his home for two years.
In addition to a slew of travels throughout Asia and the Middle East, Brandon completed two work-ships in foreign policy for the U.S. Department of State at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the U.S. Embassies in Lebanon and Kuwait. Brandon’s mission, other than becoming a diplomat, is to start his own nonprofit specializing in clean water and other water initiatives throughout Southeast Asia.
Why did you decide to study abroad? Why did you choose Bengaluru, India?
In pursuing my major, and having been born in another country, I had love and appreciation for the larger world that lives outside of our comfort that is the U.S. I firmly believe that complacency is never an option, but new experiences always are; therefore, I decided to study abroad.
India is a cultural melting pot that is the challenge of everything one knows how to do in the U.S. It is a commonly reiterated warning that only the bravest of Westerners can pull through a sojourn in the Indian subcontinent. Knowing that only fueled my drive to overcome the challenge of stepping outside the norms of where one finds the glitz and glamor of other study abroad destinations. Albeit slightly biased, my Indian background also played a major role in deciding to study in Bengaluru. Reconnecting with roots motivated me even more to pursue the opportunity and is what drove my entire experience abroad. The program courses, costs, and location (easy to travel cheap to other countries) all sold me on the Bengaluru program as it all meshed together.
How did study abroad fit into your academic and professional goals?
Planning ahead is key. One of the major hurdles in studying abroad is the courses the programs offer — some may not be applicable to one’s major/minor they are currently pursuing. It runs the risk of getting behind in your degree requirements. Having a conversation with an academic advisor well beforehand is advice that I received and followed.
I snagged the Bengaluru course list the semester prior to studying abroad, chose my courses, and took the list to my advisor. Fortunately, all the courses that the Bengaluru program offered fit perfectly with my major, as I emphasized in Asia and the Middle East in my International Affairs degree at UNR. My advisor (who was well-aware of my degree and its requirements) was able to supplement my program requirements with the courses offered in Bengaluru. In fact, I even jumped ahead of my degree timeline! (Having a good relationship with your advisor also goes a long way).
When did you graduate? What are you doing now?
I graduated from UNR in the Spring of 2018 with my BA in international affairs, a minor in political science, and emphases in both Asia and the Middle East. Immediately after graduation, I was hand-picked by the U.S. Department of State for a work-ship at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. After graduation, I spent the remainder of 2018 in the U.A.E. working in the embassy’s consular affairs section and traveling to neighboring countries in the Middle East.
Also, while there, I applied for (and have since completed) graduate school at Central European University in Vienna, Austria where I studied ethnic conflict, terrorism, and security. I am looking forward to my next opportunity as I move back to the U.A.E., shortly, to be a part of the official U.S. delegation representing the U.S. at Expo 2020 (now in 2021 due to COVID-19).
Looking back, how did study abroad play a role in getting you to where you are now?
India was the first country that I lived in other than the U.S. and Trinidad (the country I was born in). India was the push that got the ball rolling. Mentally, it made me feel invincible, that I could have lived anywhere since I accomplished six months in a country where many leave after a few weeks.
One’s mindset has to be ready to face challenges head-on and to be resilient. Having no expectations is the utmost key to getting through India. Ultimately, as my cohort and I joked around, if you can live in India, you can pretty much live anywhere. I have since lived in three more countries, visited dozens of countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. It truly garnered my appreciation for taking the paths less traveled.
Studying abroad in India accomplished my short-term goals and inspired long-term goals of giving back to my community and helping others who are less fortunate. My study abroad experience also made me realize the extent of privilege and how I can use my privilege to positively impact the world in a unique way.
India forever molded me into being the devoted person I am today to be a voice for the voiceless and to see beauty through complexity. India was the main reason I thought “outside-the-box” and decided to pursue my entire graduate education abroad. Choosing to study abroad is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
Why do you think international education is important?
As I said before, complacency is never an option. Bengaluru through comfort indeed can work against you. There is no written rule that education must be in a classroom, with the same professors, language, environment, and location. Studying abroad, while it can sound intimidating, is always an option that can never be taken away (except in quite literal cases such as COVID-19). It is possible for everyone, no matter degree or program, to partake in given the right planning and dedication to making it happen.
With regard to my degree program in International Affairs, I delve into the international world on a regular basis. Thus, international education was never a new concept for me. But I think it is important for everyone to consider in their academic journey because of how successful it is for me and millions of others that have studied abroad.
In what ways did you get involved with the community in your host city?
One thing that I absolutely loved was volunteering in a local slum in Bengaluru. All of us rotated our services between daycare and after-school care, as well as getting involved in the slum health clinic (where many came in for various reasons). Volunteering, at the recommendation from the USAC Bengaluru program, allowed me to see a different part of India —something that was very authentic and real.
What was a typical day like for you during your study abroad program?
One requirement that took a minute to get used to was wearing formal business wear to classes. We would get up around 7 – 7:30 a.m., dress up, catch a very cheap auto-rickshaw to campus from our apartments (between .50-.75 cents). Class would start at 8 a.m. with about a 10-minute break in-between.
In the mornings we would have samosas, idli, and sambar, or various dosa with Masala Chai (Masala Chai or Cha originates in India). Around 12 – 1 p.m. we would have a break for lunch where even the school cafeteria food was utterly amazing. Depending on the day, I had afternoon classes (with a not-so-early morning). My flatmate and I would catch an auto-rickshaw back to the apartments where we would either get immediately to work on our homework or relax and get food.
Since food is so cheap in India (among everything else), it is easy to just buy rather than make. Almost routinely, my roommate would join me in the evening as I went to get “momos” which is a Chinese-Indian fusion street food that closely relates to dumplings or xiaolongbao. Usually meant to eat on the street, I often took it home — the “momo-man” would regularly give me a cup of hot coriander (cilantro) soup, free of charge because I frequently came, as I waited for the momos to be ready.
When not getting momos, my roommate and I would try local coffee shops, try other street food, go to the supermarket, or just relax in our apartment while hanging out with other students from our cohort. Every day I had my routine, but my roommate and I made it a point to try something new or different on top of our typical day.
Is there any advice you would give to students interested in studying abroad?
- MAKE IT HAPPEN! If you are on the fence about it, just take the plunge and do it. Money is usually the main obstacle; for that I say there is lots of funding out there. Start applying to every scholarship even if you do not think you qualify. Save every penny, nickel, and dime. Many of my friends also took-up some part-time work — do anything you have to in order to make it happen.
- Relish your experience every step of the way! Every part of the journey from saving up to choosing courses to applications to flights, etc. is something you will want to re-live for the rest of your life.
- Remove the word “No” from your vocabulary. Say “Yes” to everything! Every “Yes” is an opportunity for an experience of a lifetime. Yes to volunteering, field trips, personal travel to surrounding areas, cultural events, food, and more. “Yes” will take you a long way, especially when traveling.
- Do NOT have expectations.