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A lasting souvenir: Study abroad leads to career in medicine

Posted: Aug 12, 2013

8-12-13 Holding flag

During Dinah’s semester abroad in China in 2005, students toured the country for 10 days. Here, she holds the Chinese flag during a visit to Shanghai in the Xian province.

8-13-13 Great Wall

Visiting the Great Wall of China

8-13-13 Tiananmen

Tiananmen Square in Beijing

8-13-13 Diving

While in Turks and Caicos in the British West Indies in 2008/09, Dinah qualified as a PADI open water diver. Here she is relocating coral to an artificial reef as part of reef conservation.

 Foreign cultures have fascinated Dinah Samuelson since she was introduced to Asian culture in second grade when a Japanese visitor came to talk to the class. Little did she know that that experience would lead to a semester in China as a student at Olivet, which ultimately had a major influence on her career choice.

Off to China

Dinah arrived on campus in August 2004, eager to see the world and study abroad. Already interested in Asian culture, “I thought I’d try China,” she said. The China Studies Program immerses students in Chinese culture not just through learning in an academic environment, but also through travelling throughout the country. It is hosted by Xiamen University in Southeastern China. A history major with a minor in sociology, this program suited Dinah’s interests.

In the fall of 2005, as a sophomore, Dinah left for Xiamen.

“Going on a study abroad trip while in college opened my eyes to the possibilities of what my future could look like. It took the fear out of traveling," Dinah said.

Experiencing acupuncture first-hand

It’s interesting Dinah mentions fear; there certainly were incidents abroad that would rattle any student’s confidence. But, as is often the case, those moments of distress became memorable anecdotes — and planted a seed that would continue to grow.

“I developed a sinus infection and the medicine I took with me, did not work,” Dinah said. “A lecturer at the university suggested acupuncture. This was my introduction to traditional Chinese medicine. Within two days, the infection was gone.”

In the aftermath of a strong typhoon later that year, Dinah slipped and fell, hurting her back. Her first experience with acupuncture sent her back to a practitioner. She underwent treatment for the injury regularly until she returned to Olivet in December 2005.

Eastern medicine: a career choice?

During the summer of 2006, Dinah completed a 10-week intensive language study course of Mandarin Chinese at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. During her final semester at ONU — thanks to the seed planted while studying abroad — Dinah started thinking about Eastern medicine as a career.

She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science from Olivet in May 2008. But the economy was in dire straits. “After the crash, there weren’t many jobs,” she said.

Museum job helps bring clarity

A few months after she graduated, Dinah sidelined thoughts of a career in medicine when the opportunity came to assist the director of the Turks and Caicos National Museum. She helped maintain the historical institution on the island of Grand Turk and started museum programs to help the community.

But disaster struck in September 2008 in the form of Hurricane Ike. The museum was badly damaged and Dinah’s duties morphed to include hurricane relief funded by grants. This included facilitating an after-school homework program for local high school and college students.

Again, in those moments when things didn’t go as planned, Dinah caught a glimpse of her future. The year spent on Grand Turk just strengthened her resolve to go back to school and study oriental medicine, she said.

“The high school students met in a UNICEF tent for months after the disaster. I realized what it meant to not have access to much help, also medical help. I remember writing in my journal ‘I think [this] is what I want to do.’ It helped give me clarity.”

Back to school

In 2009, Dinah enrolled in the master’s program at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago, Ill. In April this year, she went back to China on a school trip and completed a three-week apprenticeship at a hospital in Changchun.

And in December, she will graduate with a master’s degree in oriental medicine.

"Being introduced to the culture and history of China on the 2005 study abroad trip helped me focus my intent for the future. Because of what I experienced, I am now finishing up my master’s and looking to start my own business,” she said. “I cannot imagine doing anything else as a career, and I truly believe that had I not gone on the trip, I would not be where I am today.”