Honors scholars abroad prepare for careers in law, medicine

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Joseph Boone (second from right) studied abroad with the IUPUI Honors College in Swaziland and South Africa. Photo courtesy of Joseph Boone

Like the hundreds of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Honors College students who have studied abroad in recent years, Joseph Boone and Rebecca Yeh hit the road this summer to pursue unique paths to personal and professional discovery.

Boone traveled to Swaziland and South Africa, where he studied public health as part of the Honors College's Healthcare in the Kingdom of Swaziland program, a three-week service-learning opportunity in partnership with the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health and IU School of Nursing. Yeh enrolled in the London School of Economics in England, where she studied human rights and international law.

The pair are part of a growing trend in the Honors College. The number of scholars in the College who have studied abroad has exploded in a short time, increasing from approximately 40 during the 2012 calendar year to 120 during the 2017 spring and summer terms alone.

Living on different continents, Boone and Yeh's experiences, not surprisingly, did not share many similarities. The underlying lessons for each, however, hardly reflect the differences of their activities, and regardless of location, both students recognize the professional advantages of their time abroad.

"For the last 10 or 15 years, I've been wanting to do Doctors Without Borders," said Boone, a biology and chemistry double major who plans to be an orthopedic surgeon. "I think this trip just solidified that decision because there are so few physicians for the number of people there.

"You can always look up statistics, or see videos or watch TV," he continued, "but when you're actually somewhere and you see they need not only physicians, but well-trained physicians, and they need things that we might think are basic, that's either going to steer you toward or steer you away. I think it just drew me more toward it."

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Rebecca Yeh studied at the London School of Economics in England. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Yeh

"I have wanted to visit London for as long as I can remember," Yeh wrote from London during her trip. "I aspire to establish a career for myself in the middle of a large and busy city and found that living and studying in London for six weeks would give me a taste of what that would be like. 

"The law department at the London School of Economics is recognized on an international level for its interdisciplinary character. I believe participating in the LSE Summer Program is a wonderful way to receive an introduction into the study of law."

Both students' confidence in their career goals were strengthened overseas. Nothing could have been more impactful for Boone than his group's visits to various hospitals and nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. Embassy, and the Centers for Disease Control. The rising junior learned not only about the country's high rates of HIV -- nearly 29 percent of adults lived with the illness in 2015, the highest percentage in the world -- but also about poor access to health care and how the two issues go hand-in-hand.

Experiencing the health care system from a public-health perspective influenced how he now looks at medicine. It's a balance between focusing on the healthy versus on those who are already sick, he says.

"I think, especially in pre-med, I was so focused on treatment," Boone reflected. "But once you get into public health, you think yes, treatment is important, but you want to look at the source and think, 'How can we prevent people from getting sick?' If you're always only treating people, there's always going to be sick people."

Yeh, who is still uncertain which aspect of law she would like to pursue, has similarly been using her international experience to learn more about the field. During her six weeks in London, the Chicago native took a pair of courses introducing her to international human rights in a way that encouraged her to consider the influence of nations' customs and history on law.

"My experience at the LSE definitely has given me a taste of human rights and international law," said Yeh, who is majoring in forensic and investigative sciences and minoring in criminal justice at IUPUI. "My understanding of law prior to attending the LSE was very United States-centric. Learning about the similarities and differences between states enables me to analyze cases and situations from multiple perspectives."

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Joseph Boone. Photo courtesy of Joseph Boone

Boone and Yeh will continue their studies in Indianapolis, perhaps for years to come. Yeh expects to graduate in the spring and then apply to graduate and law schools. Boone has two more years at the Indy campus, and although he has the potential to graduate early, he has no plans to actually do so. As far as he is concerned, the future is still wide open.

Boone is a recipient of the IUPUI Chancellor's Scholarship, a leading scholars program that rewards highly motivated and well-rounded students with tuition and direct admission to the Honors College.

"With something like that, I feel like you ought to take advantage of all you can," he said. "I also do research."

After taking part in the IU Simon Cancer Center Summer Research Program, Boone was accepted into the Diversity Scholars Research Program. "I work with Dr. Marc Mendonca doing pancreatic cancer research. I will hopefully do that until I graduate -- and who knows, maybe in the future."