EP136 Kodaikanal Chronicles: Studying Abroad with Liz Carr, Dhriti Gaur and Jahnavi Munagala

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EP136 Kodaikanal Chronicles: Studying Abroad with Liz Carr, Dhriti Gaur and Jahnavi Munagala

Aman: Folks, welcome back to a new episode of the I AM GPH podcast. We've been getting so much feedback from all of you and everyone's been saying more study abroad. Study abroad. We haven't heard much about study abroad. What does NYU do when we go abroad? Well, we got you three guests that have done a lot of study abroad, and have actually attended a program abroad as an internship together. We have Jahnavi Munagala, we have Dhriti Gaur, and we have Liz Carr. I'm not gonna introduce these guests because no one would do an introduction better than themselves. I will hop into all of their journeys. Welcome to the I AM GPH podcast folks. We're glad to have you here.

Jahnavi: Thank you.

Dhriti: We're glad to be here. Thank you.

Liz: Thank you.

Aman: So why don't each of you, you know, like this is a class and I'm gonna introduce, hey, where are you from? What are you doing right now? What major at GPH? Let's get all of that outta the way in a short one minute or less than that if we can. We'll start with you, Jahnavi.

Jahnavi: Hi. Hi everyone. My name is Jahnavi. I am actually graduating this December, or in the couple weeks with my MPH. My concentration is global public health and for study abroad, I was able to do my APE in Kodaikanal, India with Dhriti and Liz. And I was also able to go to Tanzania and study maternal and child health there. And that was through NYU. It wasn't a course, it was just in another internship I was able to do. And I went to Costa Rica for study abroad. That was through NYU for nutrition and global public health in March. So that's a little bit about me.

Aman: That's a lot. I mean, wow. FYI for the listeners who, if you're listening to this in 2024 or 2025, this is December, 2023 when we're recording this, and that's when Jahnavi is graduating. All right. And what's an APE real quick before I'm sure you all are gonna say the same thing. APE. What is a APE?

Dhriti: It's Applied Practicum Experience.

Aman: Applied Practicum Experience. Okay. We'll talk about that later. All right, what's up Dhriti?

Dhriti: Hi, so I am second year master's in public health nutrition student. For me, it was my first study abroad program ever. So overall it was a very enriching experience for me. And yeah, we learned a lot and I think we'll be talking about it more.

Aman: What are you studying at GPH right now?

Dhriti: Oh, so my concentration is nutrition, but my degree is master's in public health.

Aman: Okay, sweet. And Liz?

Liz: Hi, I'm Liz. I'm a third year dual degree master's in social work and Master's in public health. And I'm in the department of global and environmental health. And yeah, like Dhriti and Jahnavi, I was also in Kodaikanal for my APE. Prior to that through NYU in March of 2023 did the BCSE course with Dr. Dickey in Nairobi. Both were such wonderful experiences. The March one was a course and yeah, this one was our practicum experience for the MPH degree.

Aman: So let's keep a popcorn style round table right now. This thing that's called a practicum experience that you all are talking about. Tell us about how you all stumbled upon it. What was the experience of finding it? What made you do it? What's the difference between a practicum experience and a traditional study abroad for most people?

Jahnavi: Okay, I can start. So for me, I just found it through the email of just experiences for APEs and it was close to my heart because I grew up around Kodaikanal so I really wanted to apply so I could kind of give back to the community that helped raise me. So that's why I applied. And you know, you hear back, you go through an interview process and we all got in. So, yeah. And what was your other question?

Aman: So how did you find out about it? What made you do it? I didn't know there was an interview process for this study abroad. How does that work?

Jahnavi: I was just with our professor and her assistant and it was over Zoom and they just asked questions like you were, just why we wanted to do it, what experience we wanted to get out of it, and just general questions to kind of just vet the interest for the internship.

Aman: Okay. So it's an internship essentially. What was the experience like for you, Dhriti and Liz?

Dhriti: So for me, I remember it was in March when I first reached out to Professor Niyati who is also one of the organizers for the APE experience for us. So I had reached out to her to just to, you know, have an idea because I was an incoming student and I didn't know anything about the study abroad programs. And I was just hoping to find some research opportunities at that time. And then her career kind of aligns with what I would wanna do in future. So she's an expert in nutrition, she is an expert in nutrition epidemiology and stuff. So I had reached out to her to know if there are any upcoming opportunities and stuff. And so I was kind of involved in the initial struggle when she didn't even know there could be something like this when she herself was figuring out, you know, that maybe we can come up with something like this. And then she told me one of the casual conversations that she's thinking of, you know, like a global exposure for nutrition students and other MPH students for next year. And I was like, yeah, count me in. And if there's something like that, I would definitely would love to be a part of it. And then following a couple more months, she comes out with this very well laid out plan. She discusses this opportunity in one of our meetings, nutrition meetings, and then I was like, "yes, this is something that I would wanna do," so let's just get started with the process. And then I had applied and then as Jahnavi we said we had interviews and stuff and then we got in.

Aman: Wow. I'm curious to hear now that Liz's side of this story, what was it like for you?

Liz: Yeah, Dhriti I didn't know that actually. So that's so interesting to hear how you came about it. I think maybe I had a unique finding out about the opportunity. Dr. Parekh Niyati is a professor in the nutrition concentration. So I didn't have any courses with her, but I'm interested in climate research and working with farm workers and that is kind of what the practicum experience, we are working with the Center for the Environment and Humanity in Kodaikanal. So someone who had seen the opportunity passed it along to me being like, oh, you need everyone through the whole program, you hear about the APE, the APE and you have to secure that yourself. So have been on the back burner like, all right, what should I do for this? And then someone said, this professor has a connection with Kodaikanal and they're doing work with farm workers and climate. And I was like, that's exactly what I'm interested in. So, yeah.

Aman: Did all of you know that NYU had a study abroad program or had anything to do with study abroad before you joined? So all of you are all of your semi nodding your head. So it seems like how many students that you interact with or yourselves knew you came to NYU because of study abroad or some people have no idea that NYU has study abroad. What do you notice in the trend over here?

Dhriti: So for me, I didn't know about study abroad until I started my part-time to be honest. So I work at Office of Global Services and we deal with a lot of immigration and study abroad applications. And that is when I came to know about, oh you know, there are a lot of students who go to Paris, London, and then all the other programs. So that was exciting. But then I didn't know we had something within GPH as well. So when I came across this opportunity I was like, yeah, we needed it.

Liz: So I heard a podcast on this podcast, an episode a few years back where a couple students went to Kathmandu for the BCSE course with Dr. Dickey. And I was so excited by it. And so that's actually how I found out before I started the program that there were abroad opportunities.

Aman: How interesting. And that's why now you're giving back to the podcast, you'll probably be the person that shares it with someone else, whoever's listening to the podcast. Imagine we've been getting feedback that hey, where's the study abroad stuff? And you are someone that joined the study abroad because you found out about it through the podcast. How interesting. What about you Jahnavi?

Jahnavi: For me, NYU has been my dream school since undergrad. So I've always known that they've just had so many global opportunities. It's why it's always been one of my like dream schools to go to. So when I got in for my master's, I knew that no matter what I was gonna take the study abroad opportunities that came my way and it was just really nice to see as well how welcoming they are and informative they are about the opportunities. The newsletters are great, all the opportunities they send our way are great as well. So yeah, when I went to Costa Rica, which was my first study abroad experience, that was so much fun and so great to go learn that way.

Aman: So all of you found out about it through different ways. As a GPH student, how did you find that what study abroad is happening? Where do you go for that information?

Dhriti: So usually we get like weekly newsletters and those are pretty comprehensive so they have very well laid out, you know, schedules and then upcoming opportunities. So usually we follow those newsletters.

Aman: Okay, newsletters number one. So folks subscribe to the newsletter if you want to find out more. What else? Was it the same for the two of you as well?

Jahnavi: Yeah, the newsletters have been great. And also just looking at courses too. You can see the study abroad experiences there once you go through the course list. But for me the newsletters have been so helpful in getting these opportunities.

Aman: Okay. So if I were to redefine the process, it seems like you come to NYU first, you get accepted, then it's a newsletter or somewhere you find out about the study abroad. So keep your eyes out for study abroad. Information's there everywhere. Then you apply it and then depending on the study abroad, you have to either interview or you get in or you go to a specific study abroad. So it seems like the APE and experience or an internship version is more interview based. And then the other study abroads are more like taking a class. If there's availability you can hop into the class. Okay, so folks, that's your step-by-step guide right now if you're interested in dabbling into study abroad. But what I'm really curious to know from all of you is so many options here at GPH. I've heard Costa Rica, I've heard Kathmandu, I've heard different kinds of places. I know that Jahnavi was just in Tanzania. And now my question is, what made you all choose India? What made you all choose this program with all the options you have?

Dhriti: I can go first. I mean, for me it was more like, it was like a win-win situation because it was already, it had already been a year for me when I moved countries and then I was obviously missing home. So I could, I mean I'm originally India so then when this opportunity came up I was like, yeah, maybe I'll get to do this internship. I'll learn something, you know, fresh and at the same time I'll be able to be close to my family as well.

Aman: And I know that Liz and Jahnavi kind of answered. Jahnavi is saying that I grew up over there and I wanted to kind of give back to the community. Liz is interested in the farming aspects of the things that happened there. Were there any other things beyond that what you two mentioned that stood out to you? Was it the practicum, was it the professor? What was the emotional reason for all of you then beyond that?

Jahnavi: For me it was the professor because I actually went with her to Costa Rica for my study abroad. And it was really funny 'cause I got accepted into the APE a week before I went to Costa Rica. So when I met her there, I was like, hey, you'll see me in a couple months for India too. And she was just really happy to kinda get to know one of the students that was coming with her. So for me it was also a win-win of just being home and being close to home and then just, yeah, just kind of having the same professor and just building that longevity with her and the you know, the relationship with her as well. And she's great. Definitely reach out to her for anyone listening. She's, I think, the best professor I've met so far and I love her so much.

Aman: To remind the listeners, who's the professor you're talking about?

Jahnavi: Dr. Niyati Parekh. As Dhriti gave a great introduction, she does nutrition and she's so well-versed in anything global public health. So yeah, any information you need or just a contact or a great professor to talk to, she is great.

Aman: There you go folks. And what about you Liz?

Liz: I was going to mention that a big component for me was knowing that there was a small group of students that were coming from all different backgrounds and concentrations. I think that was really cool and we could maybe touch more on this later, but we had epidemiology student, nutrition students, global health. So knowing that there was just a small group doing this collaborative project was a big draw as well.

Aman: Let's address that actually. So it seems like to me, when I asked, when asked Liz, what is this program meant to serve, Liz might have a different answer. When I asked Dhriti what is this program meant to serve? That might have a different answer for you. So let me ask, what is this program meant to serve, this APE that you all did? Talk about your other peers that were there. What was it meant to serve?

Jahnavi: I think it was meant to serve just working together because I know a lot of us with our concentrations, we really just see the people that, you know, kind of are like-minded with us. But it was really great to work with everyone and just see the different viewpoints and the different knowledge that they were trying to learn about. And it was really great to just kind of have an like, you know, a collaborative team for one project and one goal. So it was really great to see that, 'cause we speak about doing that in projects in public health, but it was really nice to experience that for our internship.

Aman: Collaboration. I love it. And Dhriti anything more in your mind?

Dhriti: Yeah, sure. I mean, just echoing what Jahnavi said, I think the reason why NYU does these study abroad programs is solely to serve the purpose of putting students a global exposure. And which pretty, I mean, which stood out really well for us at least because even though I'm from India, I had never been to this part of the country ever. So it was altogether a new experience for me as well. Although there were some similarities since my hometown is in Himachal, which is like the northern most hill station of India and the place there that where we went, it was Kodaikanal, it was the southern most hill station of India again. So I could find some similarities, which was, I mean, the overall experience was very surreal for me because even though the language and cultural, there were cultural differences for sure, but still I could see, you know, that overall it was, yeah, it was very enriching.

Aman: It's lovely to hear that you were studying abroad in your own country and it's still like study abroad. So why don't you all, why don't you all take me to your first impressions when you landed there since Liz, you're someone, was it your first time in India?

Liz: Yeah, it was.

Aman: So tell me about your first impressions. What were your expectations and what was the reality when you went over there?

Liz: So I think I went into it actually not having a lot of expectations at all. I had honestly, just a bit of a busy summer. I was finishing some social work stuff for the program and I was moving and then before I knew it, I was kind of just on my way. So I, yeah, I didn't really know what to expect. What's kind of crazy and maybe Dhriti and Jahnavi have an opinion on this too, but when I landed, I flew into Madurai and it was so, so, so hot. But by the time we reached Kodaikanal, it was so cold. So I think packing, I don't know if anyone has like packed appropriately because it was like, yeah, we were sweating, like it was just so hot when we first got there. But then nighttime in Kodai we were wearing like base layers and like huddling for warmth. So that was pretty surprising.

Aman: Jahnavi was that the same expectation you kind of had as well?

Jahnavi: Yes, and me tell you, I was very mad at my mother because I was like, mom, you've been here before. Is it cold? Should I pack like jammies? And she was like, no, it's fine. It's just like how it is in Hyderabad, which is where I'm from and it's like pretty warm there. I was freezing, Dhriti was my roommate, she could tell you I had like five blankets on and I was still cold. Yeah, the cold, the cold for sure. I agree with Liz a hundred percent on, but the daytime at least it was like nice enough. It was just the nights we got. And Dhriti and I also, we didn't close our window seven days we were there the window was open.

Dhriti: I think we realized it on the last day, second or the last.

Jahnavi: It was like the last two days and I was pretty sad. But it was a, it was a funny story for sure.

Aman: There's thousands, I'm sure there's thousands of these. The way all of you're smiling brings a smile to my face as well. And that's what study abroad's all about. All of you gathering these experiences, having stories beyond just academia being to going to a different place, connecting with each other, getting to know each other, kind of, you're living with each other practically for that period of time. So Dhriti, I wanna know beyond first impressions and what you expected, I'm sure the weather was a disaster in its own way, whether it's hot or it's cold. What was a day in the life like over there? What was it? I remember seeing your schedule when I was preparing for this podcast for all of you, and I got overwhelmed looking at it and I didn't even do the work. So I wonder what it was like for you on a daily basis. Did it feel exhausting? Did it feel fun? How did all of you like it?

Dhriti: I mean, I personally think, I mean, I can also speak for the rest of the people of the group I think because they would agree with me. Even though the whole schedule was very intense because we almost had like 14 to 15 hours of, you know, overall on field work. So we used to leave early in the morning, I mean, after having breakfast we used to leave for field visits and then we had like two hours of just commute back and forth. And then we used to come back late at night, but still we had that energy, you know, to sit back, reflect on the whole day and then, you know, work on our deliverables and stuff. So overall it was, I think it was great, even though it was exhaustion, I would say it was good exhaustion because we could learn so much and it was such a unique experience overall because I don't think like, even though some of the people from our group we know a lot about India in some way, but India in itself is such a culturally diverse country. I mean, if you just move from one state to another, there's a whole different dialect, whole different language, whole different culture. So it is just like a new experience even for an Indian, so, yeah.

Aman: And how was it, does everyone resonate with this or is there anything more to add that comes to your mind as Dhriti was mentioning all of this?

Liz: Yeah, I think looking back I remember seeing our agenda when we first got there and being like, "oh my gosh, like, this is more than someone can do in a day.: But what I really love about this type of work is that even when there's a plan and there's an agenda, it never kind of goes to plan. So whether it was like we would get on the bus and get stuck in traffic or like, I don't know, whatever would come up. Maybe we got to a farm site and our community stakeholder or like our translator wasn't there, or like something we kind of all had to adapt. And I really love the way, and I think it made us work really well together too, was seeing how well everyone was able to like handle those last minute changes and like, yeah, just the unpredictable things that come up. So yeah, I think on paper it looked like it looks like so much and it was, but in practice it was like, it was more flexible I think than it seems.

Aman: I have another question that's come to my mind right now and that's very, it doesn't sound chaotic, it sounds enriching when you all are explaining this to me and I feel like doing it right now. So I'm curious Jahnavi, this program has now done, it's been done since August of 2023. Now you finished a few months ago based on where we are right now. How has this program influenced what you do right now? How has it influenced your public health trajectory from where you started and where you're going?

Jahnavi: Yeah, I think for me specifically, I love doing research and I love specifically just speaking to people. So in my research, I'm doing research at NYU Langone right now and I actually just had a meeting with my professor about this, just doing the pilot study you don't understand, like when you're just reading about things how many things can go wrong and how many, like, you know, the little things that there are that need to be implemented correctly for you to reach your goal. So for us to be in the field and see that firsthand, we saw how hard it is to just kind of achieve what you want and just the little things that could add up and just, you know, the teamwork. But we were blessed with a great team, great professors and the team at Kodaikanal. So honestly, we all rallied and we made it through and honestly we're so grateful for the experience. But yeah, taking that and just knowing in public health, especially working with people how to just kind of work around the things that can happen and currently working in social work, it's, yeah, it's great to just kind work around and know how to be adaptive and flexible to things.

Aman: I love it. As you guys like to call it Kodai, how did Kodai influence the rest of you as well in your public health trajectory? Dhriti?

Dhriti: So for me, I have like during my undergrad I started biomedical engineering, but I was also specialized in regenerative agricultural practices. So agriculture was something that, you know, goes back in time for me. My grandparents, they taught me a lot about herbal medicine and stuff, so I was always interested in agriculture and when this opportunity came in it almost felt like, you know, like this is something that I have to do, you know, so yeah, so that's what brought me in in the first place. And then actually going in there, just how Jahnavi said we got a firsthand experience. It was truly transformative because if you go back now, now we're in New York, we are you know, probably pursuing different courses. I would still say the best thing about the curriculum here is that no matter what experiences you have, it all comes back, it perfectly aligns with what you're studying. So whatever skills you're building in real time, you can, you know, actually apply them later. So yeah, it was transformative for me.

Aman: I love to hear that. Liz, perhaps let's address two things with you. You can tell us about how it's influenced your public health journey and I'd also love to hear what feedback as we close out the podcast today. What feedback would you give to other students that are thinking about their study abroad journey? Is there something that you wish you did more of on your study abroad journey, or is there something that you would recommend them to do that you did do?

Liz: So I think that a major takeaway from our time in Kodai for me was that it was just kind of a very validating experience. I have like been doing work with farm workers and also working with secondary data during my time at NYU, but it was my first time doing data collection from the start and I loved it so much and there's, I think just like few better feelings than not really knowing if you'll love something and hoping that you do, and then actually like really, really loving it. So yeah, it was very life giving and yeah, which kind of helped me move forward in maybe what I wanna do after I graduate. And then as far as advice for other NYU students that are looking at abroad opportunities, I would say that they're all very unique and there are a lot of them. So looking into them and seeing, like I feel so, so lucky that this one fit so well in my interests, but there's these so many programs that kind of cover so many different areas, so find one that fits yours and even if it's not in your concentration, like this one was in the nutrition and I'm not a nutrition student, so a little bit out of my comfort zone, but it was awesome and you get to meet people that are not in your classes, so, yeah.

Aman: I love that. I love that. Would you two have anything? So Liz is saying it's a unique opportunity you can find your unique voice or your unique path through it. What more would you two like to leave for the other students? Either they're applying to NYU right now or they're in the program right now. How would you guide other students in their study abroad journey, for Dhriti and Jahnavi?

Jahnavi: I would say take every opportunity that you can because the things that you think you will learn and the things that you actually learn are so much more, like you think going in maybe 10% and you get so much more, you get the whole 90 and you also learn a lot more about yourself, others, and just how the public health world is. So yeah, study abroad just kind of makes you a better professional and I think a better person as well through the relationships that you build. So I think it's a hundred percent worth it 'cause I've been traveling most of the year and I loved every moment and I can't wait to do more, so yeah.

Aman: Yeah, we've never seen Jahnavi on campus actually. She's always studying abroad.

Jahnavi: Well, I'm an online student so you'll never see me on campus.

Aman: What about you, Dhriti? Close us out. Leave us with some final thoughts for the future study abroad. People that are gonna be walking in your footsteps and forming their future paths as well.

Dhriti: Sure. I would just say if you're, like, if you're someone who's looking for, you know, studying global public health at NYU at least because this is an excellent opportunity when it comes to study abroad programs, definitely look out for such opportunities if you are looking for a future in public health because it's all about global experience and NYU does a great job in providing you that experience. So just try and get your hands onto it because this is something that will, you know, that's like a once in a lifetime opportunity and you would learn so much from it.

Aman: I love it. Get your hands on the study abroad folks. Get your hands inside the system to get out of the system. This has been a wonderful podcast. Thank you all for giving. You asked for it, everyone, study abroad and here is your intro to what study abroad entails right now and how you can start your own journey. Jahnavi, Dhriti and Liz, thank you so much for being on the podcast and we'll see you in the next episode folks.

Jahnavi: Thank you.

Dhriti: I would actually just say thank you in a different language that we could learn this time because of the study abroad, I learned -

Aman: That's a great idea.

Dhriti: So I still remember it's called 'Vanakam'

Jahnavi: There you go, you got it, yeah.

Aman: 'Vanakam' for being here and thank you all for listening. We'll see you in the next episode. Take care everybody.

All: Thank you.