After doing development work in Dominica in the 8th grade, Nalini Peres-da-Silva (IES Abroad Santiago, Summer 2015 | University of North Carolina) knew she wanted to join the Peace Corps. Fast forward to today, Nalini is working as a Health and HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Specialist with the Peace Corps in Botswana where she works with adolescents living with HIV, runs a peer-to-peer health education club, and teaches sustainable agricultural practices. Read on as Nalini shares how study abroad helped prepare her for this role, her advice for other alumni looking to do the same, and why she plans to pursue a Master’s in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health next.
IES Abroad: Tell us what you’re up to in Botswana.
Nalini Peres-da-Silva (NP): In Botswana I'm working as a Health and HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Specialist in Mabutsane, a small 2,000 person village. I help run a Teen Club for adolescents living with HIV, run a peer-to-peer health education club at the secondary school, and teach sustainable agriculture practices to enhance food security in the village. I established funding for and helped to run a four-day sports and health education camp for 120 adolescents living with HIV in Southern Botswana in December 2018, and will be establishing a chicken coop and garden for economic empowerment at the Primary School this year.
IES Abroad: What inspired you to join the Peace Corps and how did you make it happen?
NP: I have wanted to join the Peace Corps ever since the 8th grade when I went abroad to do development work in Dominica. There I fell in love with empowering people around the world by partnering and working with already established community leaders. Since that first trip, I have continued to volunteer and work abroad. I had the most influential experience my final summer of college during a two-month trip to Uganda to vist a grassroots clinic. There I helped to lead a training for Community Health workers, and create a website for the clinic. At home, I volunteered throughout college at my local hospital as a bilingual navigator for Spanish-speaking families, supporting their visits to the large and complex hospital by translating with receptionists and nurses. By preparing for my service through volunteering in the public health setting and supporting undeserved communities in receiving quality health care, I made my Peace Corps dream a reality.
IES Abroad: How did your study abroad experience help prepare you for your current role in the Peace Corps?
NP: When coming to Botswana, I had a deeper understanding of global health care because of my study abroad experience in Santiago. I understood the varying priorities of doctors, nurses, and (most importantly) patients, and did not expect to walk into the American health care system. I also understood the importance of learning the language of the country you are in, and have worked hard to master Setswana, just as I had done with Spanish in Chile.
IES Abroad: What is a typical day like for you in Botswana?
NP: On a typical day, I come to work at my office with the District Health Management Team. Here I attend meetings with my health education team, preparing for any events we may be conducting in the district at the time, including gender-based violence, youth against HIV/AIDS, and nutrition campaigns. I then check in with various organizations in my community that I partner with, including women who run the Community Home Based Care garden (who supply vegetables to sick patients), and the school where I co-lead a peer-to-peer health education club. On the weekends I help run a psychological support group for adolescents living with HIV, and when I am not in my village, I travel to various other locations in Botswana or visit surrounding countries, including South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland.
IES Abroad: Are there any lessons you learned in Santiago that you continue to draw upon personally or professionally?
NP: In Santiago I learned how to live, coexist, and form life-long relationships with people from different backgrounds and parts of the world. I had the most incredible host family in Santiago, and my host mother was so welcoming and kind to me from the moment I entered her home. She taught me the kindness you should always show to others, no matter where they come from, and that people from thousands of miles away can become family in no time.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give to alumni who want to go back abroad? Are there any challenges to consider? Are there any resources that they should be aware of?
NP: I would advise alumni to not assume that all places around the world will be exactly like the place you went abroad in. Be prepared for new types of people and experiences. Also, going abroad to work is a vastly different experience than going abroad to study. You will be pushed in many different ways when you do not have your school program supporting you. I cannot stress enough the importance of establishing relationships with local people both in and out of the workplace. You need friends to advocate for you and teach you the necessary cultural norms. Sometimes people think that, because we are foreigners, we are qualified to do tasks we are not. Clearly defining your scope of work from the beginning is very important to having a successful time abroad.
Also, being kind to yourself and allowing yourself to struggle is important. You must always remember that you are new to your environment, and it takes time to adapt and integrate! I would recommend working with a company abroad that understands your needs, and will support you through the sometimes challenging transition of living in a new place. Going with a program like Peace Corps has been amazing, since our staff (both American and Botswanan) are here for us 24/7, whether we have medical, work, or cultural needs.
IES Abroad: What’s next for you?
NP: I will be coming home after my service finishes this September and will be looking for a public health job. I have always had a passion of working with young children and realized that to affect children's health, you must empower mothers. That's why I will be pursuing a Master’s in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health in the coming years. I will carry my Peace Corps service, my study abroad, and all of the experiences I have had around the world with me as I continue to learn and engage in global health work.
The “How to Go Back Abroad” series features alumni who have returned abroad, and explores how studying abroad shaped their life and career. How will study abroad shape your career? Explore more benefits of studying abroad.