By Charlotte Harris, Contributing Writer
On Wednesday night, the Center for International Education hosted a Work/Intern/Volunteer Abroad event in the Memorial Union Building as a part of International Education Week.
Four students who had participated in an international program shared their experiences and perspectives on going abroad. University Advising and Career Center’s Manager of Field Experience Krystal Hicks discussed the value of involvement abroad for future job placement. UNH alumnus Susanne Delaney talked about her international experience and current work in the U.S. Department of State.
Students were visibly enthusiastic discussing their unique experiences. They shared stories about engaging with the locals and immersing themselves in the culture. Junior Emily Gold, a political science and international affairs dual major, began by sharing her work in Cape Town, South Africa, over the past summer.
Gold knew she wanted to do something with public health and healthcare and opted for a work experience over an academic one. She spent 11 weeks working with the Treatment Action Campaign, an HIV/AIDS advocacy group that she was connected with through the internship placement program Volunteer Adventure Core. She worked closely with local communities spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS; worked in clinics; filled prescriptions; counseled those recently diagnosed; and visited nursing homes.
Gold describes the trip as a “life changing experience” and said it has made her decide to attend nursing school following completion of her undergrad studies.
The panel continued with Russian and justice studies major Gabby Aguilera, who studied at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in a program that incorporated academics with an internship.
Aguilera interned with the Open Society Foundation and elected to work in accordance with peace building and human rights.
Ethnic conflict with neighboring Uzbekistan had caused “biased and inflammatory journalism” in Kyrgyzstan, according to Aguilera. She conducted research on ways that other countries had combated biased journalism and said, “it was awesome to be that involved.”
Aguilera’s favorite part of her time abroad, however, was the cultural excursions she took with the program.
“It was amazing to see a culture so vastly different from my own,” Aguilera said.
Like Gold, Aguilera found her calling while abroad and is now applying for English-teaching jobs in the country of Georgia. Aguilera continued by saying that her experience in Kyrgyzstan, “completely changed everything I thought I’d be doing with my life.”
Senior Spanish and international affairs major Molly Wogan spoke of her four weeks spent in the Dominican Republic, where she spent half of her time studying at a local university, and half of her time doing a service internship at a children’s center.
Wogan worked with children in Santiago de los Caballeros, a community comprised of 80-90 percent single-parent homes (usually single mothers), in which children often receive little familial support. She also worked at La Yaguita de Pastor, a children’s community center that provides the children with educational and recreational activities fostering friendship and encouragement.
“Going there, I had all these expectations that I was going to change the lives of all these children,” Wogan said, “but once I realized my limitations, my time spent there was more effective.”
Wogan realized that she played an important role for the time she was there — that of a role model. Wogan plans on continuing to support La Yaguita de Pastor by hosting a fundraiser to collect Christmas gifts for them.
Wogan stressed the importance of global stewardship in our current world and called her trip “incredibly eye-opening.”
The panel’s final speaker was mechanical engineering and international affairs major Sid Nigam. Nigam traveled with UNH’s student organization Engineers Without Borders to Peru this summer, where the group spent 12 days working to bring a small town clean water. The group, consisting of seven students, one graduate student and one engineering professor, raised around $5,000-$6,000 to replace the small town’s inadequate pipelines.
Nigam characterizes his experience as “very difficult and very physically challenging, but also very rewarding.”
He also spoke on a reportedly powerful moment in which one elderly townswoman asked for a photo with the group, telling them she planned to show it to her grandchildren and say that the group is the reason the town has clean water.
“As global citizens, we sort of have a responsibility to help however we can,” Nigam said.
The event concluded with Hicks discussing the importance of international experience in today’s job market.
“The employer finds an incredible amount of value in experience abroad,” Hicks said, adding that the experience increases students’ “marketability” in potential employment because it shows a cultural awareness and maturity.
This sentiment was echoed by Delaney, who said, “As an employer, the first thing that would jump off the resume is international experience.”
Delaney emphasized the importance of her international experience in securing a career with the U.S. Department of State, where she currently works. Delaney spent a year in Granada, Spain, while in college and joined the Peace Corps for two years following graduation. Delaney agreed with the student panel that time abroad is life changing.
“Experience like this moves you toward your calling,” she said. “These are the things that mold you.”