On co-​​op at a government-​​funded com­mu­nity health center out­side of Cape Town, South Africa, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Karla Schu­maci helped treat many patients from under­served local town­ships. She was par­tic­u­larly moved by one patient, an HIV-​​positive woman and new mother who had been forced to dis­con­tinue anti­retro­viral drug therapy at another clinic due to racial hostility.

The experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­nity inspired the fourth-​​year phar­macy major to pursue a mas­ters of public health degree (MPH) after she grad­u­ates from Northeastern.

After wit­nessing the health dis­par­i­ties that existed in the town­ships because of poverty and race, I am moti­vated to get an MPH so that I can go back abroad and help impov­er­ished people of third-​​world coun­tries,” Schu­maci explained. “There’s so much work that needs to be done there.”

The global expe­ri­ence also inspired Schu­maci to become an inter­na­tional co-​​op ambas­sador, a new ini­tia­tive designed to pro­mote the value of working and living abroad.

Schu­maci, who became part of the first group of ambas­sadors this spring, said inter­na­tional co-​​op gives stu­dents a leg up in the job market. “Stu­dents inter­ested in going abroad should con­sider inter­na­tional co-​​op, regard­less of their major,” she said. “If it’s some­thing you want to do, you can make it happen.”

Schumaci’s work at the clinic ranged from pri­mary care to the pre­ven­tion, testing and treat­ment of HIV, AIDS and tuber­cu­losis. She also vol­un­teered in the local com­mu­ni­ties and town­ships, tutoring high-​​school stu­dents, leading after-​​school pro­grams for chil­dren and working for an animal shelter.

I gauge the suc­cess of my co-​​op expe­ri­ence on what I con­tributed more than what I gained,” Schu­maci said. “I’d like to go back and con­tinue what I started.”

Ear­lier this week, Schu­maci also shared her co-​​op expe­ri­ence with a small group of stu­dents as part of Inter­na­tional Edu­ca­tion Week at North­eastern. The event offered a chance for stu­dents to learn more about the university’s expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties abroad.

Inter­na­tional co-​​op is really what you make of it,” she said.