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You don’t have to go far from New West to find DAMES greatness. I recently interviewed Sarah Smith, DAMES alum from the class of 2010, who does mighty deeds just across the street in the famed Campus Y. Read on to find out what Sarah is up to these days!

1) Tell me about you! 

My name is Sarah Smith and I currently serve as the Director of the Global Gap Year Fellowship housed in the Campus Y. I’m a North Carolina native having lived in many parts of the state but most recently calling the Triangle home.

2) What was undergrad like for you here in DAMES? Did you have any favorite classes, moments, experiences, etc.?

I never knew I had a passion for Asian Studies until I came to UNC. I am from a rural town in Eastern NC and had done very little traveling. I was selected to join the Southeast Asian Summer Program (SEAS) between my first and second years at UNC. When I found myself on this incredible trip, my eyes were opened to beautiful and complex cultures that felt so different from my own. We spent time in Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia and I felt like I had only skimmed the surface of all there was to learn about the enormous continent of Asia.

I came back to UNC with a passion for Asian cultures and wanted to continue to learn more. A dear friend of mine talked me in to joining her for Hindi-Urdu classes during my second year at UNC (with Professor Afroz Taj). I had finished my language credit for UNC with Spanish, but really wanted to diversify my language skills. I enjoyed those courses so much that I applied and was selected to be a Phillips Ambassador and to spend a summer in India. As a result, I joined Professor Taj and Professor John Caldwell for the Summer in India Study Abroad program in 2008. I learned so much during that summer and have fond memories of exploring Delhi, Agra, Aligarh, and Rishikesh with them! John and Afroz made learning so much fun and I’ve made friends from that trip that I keep up with today.

(Sarah on her Summer in India adventure in 2008!)

(Another photograph from Sarah’s adventure, featuring Dr. Afroz Taj [center] and former DAMES professor Dr. Rachana Umashankar [left].)

3) What inspired you to pursue a minor with us? 

Once I returned to UNC after my summer in India, I realized that I was well on my way to a minor in Asian Studies. So, I officially declared my minor and continued to take class in DAMES for my remaining 2 years. I graduated in May of 2010 with a Major in Anthropology and minors in Asian Studies and Social & Economic Justice.

4) What did you do after you graduated? Was it what you expected/wanted?

Immediately after graduation I began a role with the Carolina Center for Public Service as a Student Services Specialist. In this role, I worked closely with students who were volunteering in communities locally and abroad. It was during this time that I began to develop a real passion for empowering students to make positive change in their communities. I knew from my time at UNC and with DAMES that I was also interested in culture and learning more about becoming a global citizen. So, once I finished my time at CCPS, I pursued a master’s degree in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar which helped me cover the cost of tuition and embed myself into the local community in Dublin. I ended up staying in Dublin for 2 years and took on a welfare support role in my second year for graduate students. One of my favorite parts of that job was supporting fellow international students including many from Asia. My background and knowledge of Asian languages and cultures served me well that in role.

5) Do you feel as though your experience in DAMES helps you now, in your current career?

My experience in DAMES allowed me to expand my knowledge and understanding of Asian cultures which helps me immensely in my current role. As the Director of the Global Gap Year Fellowship I work closely with students to design a gap year experience that helps them fit their own goals both personally and professionally. Every year, students chose to explore Asia and I’m able to advise them and coach them based on my very personal, firsthand knowledge of the region. Over my time in this role, I have worked with several students who, like me, come from a rural background and limited travel experience. I feel that in some (small) ways, I’m able to pay forward the opportunities that were given to me through DAMES and UNC Global. Some of these students have gone on to major in Chinese and Korean or minor in Asian Studies or another Asian language. Many of them study abroad in Asia later in their UNC career and several have earned FLAS or Phillips Ambassadorial Scholarships.

6) Do you have any advice you’d like to give future students interested in minoring in DAMES?

I would encourage students interested in DAMES to go for it! Even if others may be discouraging you because they don’t see a linear connection between that and your career goals. If you have an interest in Asian or Middle Eastern culture and language, UNC is an incredible place to explore that curiosity. We have an extremely knowledgeable faculty who are ready and excited to impart their own research and expertise to their students. Also, the staff support at DAMES is second to none. You will feel supported and like you are a part of a community bigger than yourself.


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