Meet Soha Raja

Program and Location:

Summer, Botswana: Public Health and Communication; Gaborone, Botswana

Major/Minor:

Nutrition Science/Microbiology

Why did you choose to study abroad?

To be able to travel is a privilege. I chose to study abroad in order to gain a deeper understanding of the global community and grow in my capabilities as an active citizen. After graduation and throughout my career, I hope to be able to continue my travels and use my prospective education to provide health services to diverse communities across the globe. Studying abroad provided me with the opportunity to gain a more intimate perspective on life outside the United States, and the Botswana program specifically sought to explore international healthcare and the HIV/AIDS epidemic as it impacts the local population. Studying abroad allowed me to not only evolve my education, but also breach my walls of comfort.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that I am able to stay positive in strenuous situations. There is value in doing your best to remain calm and collected in the face of unprecedented challenge and studying abroad helped me see that I am able to remain a pillar of positivity, for both myself and others around me. I guess there’s a reason I was voted “Most Chill” by my peers at the end of our program.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

My time in Botswana taught me to truly love nature and wildlife. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of watching the sun rise and set across the desert, as silhouettes of elephants, hippos, and giraffes stroked the horizon. I have never been an outdoorsy person but studying abroad allowed me to embrace living a life outside four walls and grow to appreciate being a member of the large organic, natural world.

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

My advice to future study abroad students is to take the time to reflect on each day’s experience. Some days may present unanticipated challenges, and not every encounter with the local community may be positive. Taking the time to reflect, whether it is in private or with friends, is important in order to remain grateful and appreciative of the host country, your peers, and the opportunity to study abroad itself. A daily reflection upon the day’s experience helps you remember all that is good and less-than-good and may help ease the challenges of living in another country. Studying abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life, and although we experienced a few rough patches, I look back at my time abroad with nothing but fondness for the program, my friends, and Botswana herself.

Were you surprised by anything during your time abroad?

I was incredibly surprised by the strong degree to which locals in Botswana wanted us, as American students, to share stories of our experience in Africa upon our return home. The Botswana community requested that we return to America ready to educate our peers on Africa, as well as the triumphs of Botswana. The people of Botswana are painfully aware of how stories of their successes and strides are masked by stereotypes and ignorance.

Our responsibilities as global citizens became evident when we traveled six hours into the heart of the desert to visit the isolated Khwai community. Although the community faces challenges of health care and transportation due to the remoteness of the village, the chief of the Khwai village illuminated us to the progress of the community in establishing greater access to education. Leaders of the Khwai community hoped that we would travel back to America ready to share the unique narrative of the Khwai people. The fact that locals hoped that we would not forget Botswana and all that we learned while living there allowed me to better the understand the impact of being a global citizen. I did not expect to feel an immense responsibility to become a more active member of the global community upon my return, but my time in Botswana brought to light the importance of being an ally to communities far and wide.

Would you do it again?

100% – I wouldn’t even think twice