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Correspondence from an Extraordinary Alum Abroad

Katie Starr (’11, International Studies and French) is serving in the Peace Corps.

With her permission, I am sharing an email I recently received from Katie Starr, who graduated from NC State in 2011 and is now serving in the Peace Corps in Indonesia. We featured Katie’s work when as a student here, she presented her research about sex trafficking at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I had the privilege then to hear this bright young woman speak before she made her presentation to the UN. I am so proud of Katie and count her among our alumni who are making this world a better place. Please read her email below and check her blog as well.

— Dean Jeff Braden, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

P.S. The post Katie refers to is one in which I offered reflections about the challenges and frustrations — and the importance — of visiting countries where English is not the primary language.

Hi Dr. Braden,

What a delight to read about your recent trip to China. I relate instantly to your frustrations over having complex ideas and thoughts to share, but limited means (due to a language barrier) in which to share them.

I wanted to take this opportunity to comment on your experience as well as to update you of what I’ve been up to since graduating CHASS in May 2011. I worked for  a year in Philadelphia for two women’s NGOs and am now working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Indonesia. When I arrived in Indonesia this past April, I literally didn’t speak a word of Indonesian.

Despite my studies of French and Arabic while a student in CHASS, I never dreamed I would live for two years in Indonesia, a place where the two foreign languages I already knew aren’t of much help. (the Arabic does come in handy as a hat trick conversation topic in the largest Muslim country in the world). After almost four months in Indonesia, intensive language training from Peace Corps, and full immersion in my Indonesian village, I’m at an ‘Advanced Intermediate’ level of speaking Indonesian and am studying and learning more each day. Language is integral to communication and I often find myself settling on a simplified answer to a complex question merely because my Indonesian language depth can’t take my listener to my true answer. It’s frustrating at times but serves as motivation for my acquiring more language.

I agree with your vision of encouraging students to step outside of experiences abroad that keep them isolated in an English-speaking, American outside-

looking-in environment that perhaps many of NC State’s study abroad programs implement. While a CHASS undergraduate, I completed three distinct

experiences abroad: a summer NC State study abroad program in Egypt; a semester study abroad in Morocco through an outside abroad program, AMIDEAST; a summer internship working in a town hall in France, arranged independently with the help of a professor.

Each of these experiences required language skills and they were increasingly more culturally integrated experiences. Starting with Egypt, I was with American

students from my home university. We took classes in Arabic but a lot, if not all, of our discussions were in English. We lived in a hotel and spent free time exploring Cairo together, as Americans observing another culture. In Morocco, I branched out a bit more, living with a Moroccan family, making Moroccan friends and having an experience unique from any other NC State peer at that time. Then in France, I moved to a town, worked, and lived independently of any Americans.

Each of my international experiences contributed to the next. Maybe I never would have been able to successfully live in France alone for a summer if I hadn’t had two prior experiences abroad with the cushion of English native speakers surrounding me. However, I can’t help but note that the two non-NC State

experiences abroad were largely and, at times, painstakingly self-driven. It was very challenging to find and arrange  a semester in Morocco and a summer in France.

What can be done to expand the international experiences available to NC State’s globally curious and intelligent students? I understand that students like myself help forge paths for others to follow, and I hope that many others step outside the NC State Study Abroad brochure if their interests lie beyond an English-speaking, American-oriented experience. I understand that travel concerns from students and parents perhaps are a principal reason why NCSU’s study abroad programs aren’t more abundant and culturally far-reaching (i.e. only a select few programs in the Middle East, SE Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and SE Asia). Maybe those programs will form only with an increased interest and demand for them to form. I wholeheartedly believe that NCSU’s students, especially those culturally curious ones in CHASS, would seize opportunities to study and learn in places off the beaten path and outside of an American-dominated perspective.

I want to clarify that I in no way mean to imply that my NC State study abroad in Egypt wasn’t a good experience. It was wonderful and integral to my professional and academic development. I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences on this topic as a means of encouraging and supporting NC State’s growth as an institution that nurtures global, culturally intelligent citizens.

My service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Indonesia is the apex of my international exploits thus far. It is challenging and enlightening every day. I am certain that I am able to deal with the ups and downs of Peace Corps service because at the base of my competency is my education at NC State as a CHASS student and Park scholar.

Please check out my blog if you have time:

I would love to hear further thoughts on this and will be looking out for the great things CHASS students and faculty continue to achieve.


Katie Starr

NC State University, 2011

B.A. International Studies

B.A. French Foreign Language

2011 Park Scholar

Peace Corps Indonesia Volunteer, 2012-2014