The University of Iowa

UI alumna carries her international studies into post-grad life

July 5th, 2018

Training Program for Peer Educators and School Activists

UI alumna Abby Peeters (BA studio arts, BA social work, certificate in American Indian and native studies) has had her eye on international work since she was a young girl, watching her father travel the world as a production assistant for a video production company.

“It was Zimbabwe when I was in kindergarten, Bangladesh and Singapore when I was in third grade, Greece in sixth grade, Egypt in eighth, and Haiti when I was in eleventh,” Peeters recalled. “I grew up listening to stories of their adventures and tales of far away places and, from the very first moment, I was hooked. I can still vividly remember hanging on to every one of their words, clamoring to get my hands on any items they brought back that could somehow connect me to that place. I was ready to leave at a moment’s notice if ever they asked me to join them.”

Her chance finally came when she was in high school. Peeters was able to travel to Haiti through ServeHAITI,  a volunteer organization that addresses issues in health, water, education, and economic development in the country. She visited in 2011, shortly after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.

Abby Peeters at a health fair

Abby Peeters at a health fair

“It was a challenging experience that pushed me and grew me in many ways, and I knew my life would never be the same,” she said. “That summer sparked something in me, opened my eyes to new worlds of opportunities, and served as the driving force in my college and career paths.”

Peeters now lives in Mozambique, serving as a community health outreach volunteer with the Peace Corps. She solidified her groundwork for her international journey during her time at the UI. Although starting out as a studio arts major with a focus in art therapy, Peeters added a social work major after spending more time in Haiti and realizing her goal was to spend as much time abroad as possible.

Peeters credits many of her former professors and mentors for encouraging her desires to work abroad though their own personal and professional experiences.

“Professors in the School of Art and Art History like Christopher Roy, who frequently spoke so highly of his experiences not only in Africa but also in Peace Corps (I think all of his former students can attest to his incredible ability to tell stories and his proclivity for turning western Africa into one of our top travel destinations); professors in the School of Social Work like Motier Haskins, who brought in guest speakers and encouraged students to accompany him on his study abroad trips to India; mentors like Lily French, who went above and beyond to design a custom practicum experience for me in Haiti. These individuals (and countless other faculty and staff) never ceased in supporting me to make my goals a reality— I owe so much of where I am today to them.”

She also attributes much of her success to the UI community.

“I found that the UI has an incredible international community and provided ample opportunities for students to get involved in experiencing other cultures and making diverse friendships,” she said. “I met students from around the world during my time at Iowa and was able to push my geographical boundaries by attending events on campus and at the different cultural houses. It was a great way to make connections and broaden my worldview.”

She says her international experience thus far has benefited her immensely.

“It’s hard to even begin to list all the ways that my international experience has benefited both my professional and personal life— in a lot of ways, the two overlap. I’ve become a much more confident and self-assured person. I’ve become proficient in new languages and have learned how to operate within entirely new cultures, “she said. “I’ve had my eyes opened to new ways of life and starkly different ideas and opinions. I’ve been fortunate enough to make friends on every continent and establish a network of supportive, intelligent, and inspiring people from all walks of life. I now position myself as a learner everywhere I go. I firmly believe that traveling, living, and working internationally has made me a better person.”

Looking back at her time at the UI and her experiences since, Peeters encourages students to believe in themselves and follow their dreams.

“Don’t be afraid to go for it—-whatever 'it' may be,” she said. “If I had listened to that little voice in me that thought it impossible for a girl from small town Iowa to be living and working abroad, to travel to the places that little voice had only dreamed of, I would never be where I am today. If you really want to do something, you can and will find a way to make it work. Never underestimate yourself. Always believe in your own power to bring your dreams to life.”

Follow along with Abby's work on her blog, Abby from Iowa.