My Path to the 2017 Leo T. McCarthy Public Service Award

Nichole Vasquez

Nicole Vasquez, Kinesiology ’17

2017 Leo T. McCarthy Public Service Award Winner

The Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good has been a formative part of my college experience here at USF! I am very grateful that I learned of the center my sophomore year of college. Since then, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Privett Global Scholar program, where I traveled to India and worked with an organization which focused on integrating people with disabilities into the school system. I also have served as an Advocate for Community Engagement, where I have been working with the incredible community partner, Family House. In each of these experiences, I have had the chance to be in community with folks from different walks of life. I have also had a chance to think critically about community-engaged work, and see that it often times is not a linear process. Post-graduation, I will be attending Creighton University as part of the Doctorate in Occupational Therapy program. I hope to carry on what I have learned through participation in the McCarthy Center programs in order to be a caring and compassionate occupational therapist. Thank you so much to the McCarthy Center for the wonderful work that you all do each day!

2nd Ave Move 1-26-16

Check out more of Nicole’s posts:

What About An Internship Abroad?

Future Advocate For Community Engagement

Bridging Two Homes at Starbucks: From Udaipur, India to San Francisco


Syona Puliady

B.A., International Studies ’17

Syona traveled to India as a participant in the 2016 summer cohort of the Privett Global Scholars program.

It’s 2 a.m. and I am sitting in a 24 hour Starbucks writing a final paper on something I didn’t feel extremely passionate about. I have been awake for quite a few days now, and I don’t recall ever being so stressed in my life. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and the last thing I want is to talk to anyone. But as always, whenever one asks life for something not to happen…it has to happen.

An elderly woman sits in the chair across from me. She eats a bagel while her eyes linger on me. I don’t want to be rude, but I am also so overwhelmed by my schoolwork that I don’t particularly want to engage in conversation with her either.

“Hello,” she says after exchanging a few minutes of silence. I mumble back “hi” and give her faint smile.

“Are you Indian?” she asks. I hesitated. This has always been a complicated question for me, and I generally have never enjoyed attempting to figure out an answer. Burdened by many negative stereotypes the West has constructed about India coupled with my family’s deepening resentment for it, my relationship with India has been slightly more than complicated. Having spent a majority of my life struggling with my ethnic identity, it has always felt strange trying to package all of these sentiments into a single, easy to digest sentence.

“Well…I guess so, yeah,” I started, “I was born in the States, but the rest of my entire family was born and raised in India. I suppose one could say I lived there a bit—but I’m not sure that I consider myself Indian.” This is my short, extremely rehearsed version of my complex ancestry and heritage.

“Oh me too! I lived there for a little bit, I think I was in…Bombay? I don’t remember now…I am actually from Ethiopia—but I loved India. Even though I don’t remember much of it, I will never forget all of its colors.”

I laugh. I begin to tell her more about my own personal loves for India. We both came alive in this conversation about our short lived experiences in a place on the opposite side of the globe. My schoolwork lay abandoned on the table between us as we both fondly recalled our favorite parts of India. My new friend was fixated on the colors.

“There are just so many colors! Everywhere you go, everything you see—it’s all so colorful!” she closes her eyes tightly, as if she is attempting to recreate her childhood’s imagination of what she had once seen. “Those colors…I think they are only so beautiful because they mimic the vibrancy of life in India,” she says to me. And I couldn’t agree more.

I bring this story to you because it was a moment in my life that really struck me—it was something so special to me that I carried the memory everywhere I went while traveling and working in India. It was only because of this conversation that I could finally see the beauty of my own motherland. Everywhere I looked and everything I felt was so full of color, full of vibrancy, full of life.

This conversation carried each and every memory I collected in India back with me to the U.S. It was so powerful to me that it could delicately bridge the gap between my two homes without causing more confusion within me. While this memory occurred before I started my journey back to India, it definitely set a precedent to how I would come to terms with going back to something that had always left a sour taste in my mouth.

I definitely tend to forget that there is still so much for me to learn, here in the United States. People seem so curious about life in other countries, that it seems as if we forget that many of our curiosities can be found here—right at home. But even on a more global scale, I’m always taken aback at how little I seem to appreciate the intimacy of human nature and companionship. I always feel so lost in the fast pace stresses of everyday life that I often forget that some of the best moments can be as simple as a conversation between two strangers at two in the morning.


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What About an Internship Abroad?

Leo T. McCarthy Center blog - Nichole

Nichole Vasquez
Privett Global Scholars participant

When I first learned about the Privett Global Scholars at a school information session, I immediately knew this was something I wanted to do.

The program is a ten-week internship in Udaipur, India where students are placed at NGO’s (non-governmental organizations), to complete a sustainable development project. When I first heard a former program participant talk about her experience abroad, her account consisted learning Hindi, few people at her work speaking English, and living with a host family eating traditional Indian food three times a day.

I myself, knew little to nothing about India, its culture, or what sustainable development looked like. The unfamiliarity of the experience pulled me in, and a couple months later I was living in India with a host family, interning at an NGO, and embracing a culture I had known little about.

Leo T. McCarthy Center blog

When searching for and working at my internship, I learned many different things along the way. Here are the three most important:

  1. Find the resources on campus and in the community.

Take the time to look around campus and the community to see what services, organizations, and other resources are available to you. Internships, jobs, and volunteer opportunities are available where you least expect it.

  1. Try something new!

Even if something doesn’t sound like it’s your thing, go for it! You never know if a new experience could spark a new passion or even lead to your next job.

  1. Keep an open mind.

To get the most out of the internship experience, try to keep an open mind. Learning about a new culture and workplace can be overwhelming, but try to form friendships and listen to your co­workers, bosses, and the people you meet along the way.

I was fortunate enough that this internship led me to my next job as an Advocate for Community Engagement through the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. In this position, I work between a non-profit and students at USF. Although now I am back in the U.S., my time in India equipped me with the skills necessary to work in a non-profit.

While an internship can be the experience of work itself, it is truly more than that. It is made up of the environment, the people you meet, and the experiences you have. An internship, no matter how close or far, can be the experience of a lifetime!

This post is part of the Looksharp Internship Blog Competition. To read more about the competition and view other posts go here.

Gender, Power and Democracy in India: A Sarlo Scholar’s Experience

By Neema Jyothiprakash

“Zindabad! Zindabad!”

It means long live the revolution; I have only seen it on TV, as protesters chant, or in Bollywood movies. The second day at my organization I interned with, I saw it said as hands clasped together in greeting. People had come from 3 or 4 hours away for the monthly staff meeting; they were tired from traveling and evening had arrived, but “Zindabad!” was said with the energy it commands.

I asked why it was used as a greeting, and my supervisor, Sarfraz said “We don’t quietly put our hands together, bow and say ‘namaste.’ We are activists! So we say ‘Zindabad!’”

It’s the McCarthy Center at USF that brought me to this meeting of activists in Rajasthan, India. I participated in the McCarthy Center’s Global Service-Learning Fellowship, where I interned at a local grassroots NGO in Udaipur, Rajasthan, created my own sustainable development project, and designed and conducted academic research.

My organization, Kotda Adivasi Sansthan (KAS), is a rights-based organization that seeks to empower and educate tribal and indigenous communities in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The organization campus is 3 hours away from Udaipur, deep in the rural forest areas of Rajasthan. I stay there 5 days out of the week and come back to my host family in the city on the weekends. It’s an office, but also a home because everyone who works there lives there. Everyone laughs loudly, is silly and childlike, banters like family, and works at odd hours in 3-hour increments. We stop for chai 4 times a day, take afternoon naps, and use old bed frames to sit outside in the evening when it’s cooler.

neema1The days are long and there is no pressure to be productive and fix the world. I am asked on the first day how the States are different from India and this concept of the time is the first thing I remark about. They laugh knowingly, and tell me that I only have one life so I might as well enjoy it and relax. I find it comforting how easily I can slip back into this Indian concept of time, how easily I can let go of the need to constantly be productive, to discover exciting things, to break intellectual ground, to change the world from here.

But I’m focused enough to design my project, which had 3 components: 1) designing and facilitating three trainings on gender and power for the community and staff, 2) creating a training tool for capacity building of women through self-help groups, and 3) creating an educational curriculum for tribal youth about democracy and consensus-based decision-making.

My project was the marriage of two things: asset mapping of the Kotda community and asset mapping of myself. What are the strengths and gifts within the community that I can combine with my own strengths and gifts? Through this experience then, I learned an incredible amount about my own capabilities, and I also learned an incredible amount about a specific local community—the various power dynamics, the narratives embedded within the community, the challenges, the successes, what holds the community together, and what pulls it apart.

neema2A lot of this knowledge came from “going into the field:” I attend panchayat (village council; India’s most decentralized form of democratic governance) meetings about forest rights, employment for rural communities, and women’s self-help groups. I observed, took notes, and interviewed mostly women—those that were political leaders and those that were mainly householders and farmers. These experiences that made me fall in love with India in way I never had before. As an Indian-American, I had been to India previously, but never in this capacity. Politics is dynamic, daily, urgent, and radical in the villages.

neema3Village meetings and the culture of community organizing I was exposed to is what draws me back to India more than anything after three months of being back in the States. As graduation approaches, I struggle to remember this and all the moments of wonder and peace I had over the summer. But reflection always brings me back and reminds me of my ties there. As this semester winds down, I keep one foot in the world of the Bay Area, job opportunities, and urban life. And I keep the other, firmly planted in the green forests and warm monsoons of rural India.