From the arid landscape of Kenya to the bustling city of Bangkok to the political backdrop of Washington, D.C., Samantha Van Putten, ’13, is finding what it means to work in health and development in any environment.

Van Putten’s path began with courses such as the Human and Global Rights Sophomore Scholars in Residence and a sociology special-topics class that focused on world food systems, including the intricacies of food production in developing countries. In addition to a foundation in the intersection of health and development, she found a path to pursue a desire from high school—to travel and study abroad in Africa.

Van Putten considered programs in South Africa and Kenya that combined health and development. To make her decision, she didn’t just consult with professors and the Office of International Education. She went straight to the source.

“I was a nanny for a South African woman,” Van Putten says. “She told me if you want to get the ‘true Africa experience,’ South Africa isn’t typical Africa.”

With that advice in mind, Van Putten chose to attend the School for International Training (SIT) in Kenya. SIT warns students of some of the cultural differences when it came to living with the families, and Van Putten says, “the homestay was difficult at first.” She describes different gender dynamics and a sometimes pushy host mom. But she says the homestay was the only way to truly learn more about Kenyan culture and family dynamics.

One of Van Putten’s biggest takeaways was the importance of education and how many problems stem from lack of education. “The reason so many of the issues in the slums occur is because the youth simply don’t have anything to do,” she says.

Van Putten’s international study didn’t end in Africa. The following semester, she traveled on to Bangkok, Thailand — a place with similar opportunities to explore health and development, but a dramatically different culture. In Thailand, Van Putten lived in an apartment with a fellow Richmond student, Addie Rauschert, ’13, and was not nearly as embedded in Thai family dynamics and culture. She also had to wear a uniform to attend Thammasat University, one of Bangkok’s most prestigious business schools.

“In Thailand, uniforms for any job are incredibly important,” Van Putten says. “Walking around the city, because I was obviously not native and because I was wearing this particular university’s uniform, people would always comment and stare and turn their heads.”

Her international business advisor, Tom Cosse, also connected Van Putten with a Bangkok nonprofit run by Richmond alumnus John Quinley Jr., B’79. Van Putten says she and Rauschert were able to learn about Quinley’s work and connections, as well as the political implications. They also had the opportunity to visit Burma and India where they visited trafficking organizations in Calcutta.

After graduation in May, Van Putten will be packing her bags yet again, but her end destination will somewhat less exotic. She’ll be working at a consulting firm in D.C., where she’ll focus on risk advisory and internal audit.

“I’ll be learning a lot about how businesses function, identifying problems, and how to fix them,” Van Putten says. “My goal while I’m in D.C., which is such a hub for international development, is to network and learn about more organizations and what I want to do in the future.”

After Van Putten’s experiences on campus and abroad, she’s realized how many people there are in the world that are passionate about causes and want to do good, but don’t have the necessary business skills to do that effectively.

“I first need to gain the business knowledge that I can then apply,” Van Putten says. “It’s always been my goal to combine my business interest and my health and development interest. I’ve realized that I can make the biggest contribution by taking my interest and knack for business and organization and applying that to the nonprofit world.”