Senior Ritesh Karsalia from New Jersey has always known that he has wanted to become a doctor, but it was not until coming to Villanova that he found his other passions. He came to Villanova as a Biology major because he is an aspiring physician and because of his interest in the life sciences from high school.
Though, he did not expect that he would declare minors in Spanish and Latin American Studies. “What pushed me there was our core curriculum and some really great professors. After I took both semesters of intermediate Spanish my freshman year, that was technically all I was required to do, but one of my professors approached me and told me about a study abroad program. I considered doing it, but I was hesitant at first until another professor told me about the same program.”
After the recommendations from those two professors, Ritesh ended up attending an information session that inspired him to apply to the study abroad program. So, the summer after his freshman year, he studied abroad in Chile, where he took a course with a Chilean professor that focused on the differences in Chile in comparison to other Spanish speaking countries. In the course, they explored the everyday life of a Chilean, including their slang, sayings, and the distinguishing factors of the country.
He recalls that “Spending the summer in Chile influenced my interest because I realized that Spanish was not just a language I took for a requirement, but I really enjoyed learning the language and communicating with others with that language. I remember the first day I met my host family, I could not speak much Spanish at all, and it was the most intimidating thing I have experienced because I didn’t know how I could communicate with them. It was really awkward communicating with them the first few weeks with hand gestures, broken Spanish, and going in circles with phrases. After a while though, I became a lot more fluent in terms of communication because I became immersed in the culture. That whole experience made me realize how interesting it was to communicate with these people from different parts of the world, and I didn’t have access to learn and speak with them before. It helped me learn better Spanish and influenced me to pursue that minor along with Latin American studies after learning about the culture and taking more classes at Villanova. I did not anticipate these minors, but they’ve been influential in shaping my future goals and time at Villanova.”
On campus, Ritesh’s major commitment has been with Campus Ministry in their COV program, which stands for Community Outreach of Villanova. Every week for the past two and a half years, he has been going with a cohort of students to a parish in Upper Darby where he tutors immigrants in that area in ESL in small groups or one on one tutoring.
“We get many Spanish speaking and Vietnamese speaking immigrants who attend the facility and are at different levels of English. They need help in order to figure out how they can work around their everyday jobs and lives. It has been one of the most influential things I have done on campus, and I think it ties in with the time I spent studying abroad, because that’s what really got me interested in other cultures and languages. It has come full circle to this experience, and this is something I have been super grateful to participate in.”
He also volunteers with Learning Support Services in Falvey, for which he leads weekly General Biology study group sessions. Each week, around twenty to thirty students come for extra help and content review.
He has also left his mark on campus with his work with the Health Professions Advising Office. As a freshman, he bonded with his advisor, Dr. Russo while she was assisting him with his classes and his career goals. At the time, there was an office assistant who ended up leaving for dental school, and they needed someone to help them take on a lot of their responsibilities, a major one being the newsletter they publish each semester. Dr. Russo asked him to step into the position, which is something that he has now been managing for four semesters. For the newsletter, they decide upon a theme that will help pre-health students in all of the pre-health fields and solicit articles and different experiences from students and professors on campus.
In regard to his work experience, last summer, Ritesh worked in the immunology lab in Mendel as part of a research fellowship. He has also worked as a clinical assistant intern at a reproductive endocrinology clinic between my sophomore and junior year and also during some of his winter break during my sophomore and junior year back home in New Jersey. For that position, he helped the team at the clinic with procedures, patients, and data collection.
Currently, he works as an intern at Villanova’s Law School as the community interpreter. For that position, he works with student lawyers who are assigned different cases ranging from asylum, refugee, and health law. As the interpreter, his role, through the Spanish department, is to serve as intermediary in order to help the student lawyers communicate with their clients when they have to make phone calls to them or when their client comes in.
Before he goes to medical school, for which he is open to many different medical fields, Ritesh plans on taking a gap year. “I am anticipating spending the next year doing a year of service through AmeriCorps. I had an interview recently for a program I am excited about, and I should hear from them soon. It is with a community health center in New Jersey, and they work with farmers, marginalized communities, people from a lower socio-economic status, and immigrant populations. They help provide them with primary care medical services, get them enrolled in the Affordable Care Act, and help them with basic health education and health literacy while running after school physical activity programs like diabetes management. I have a couple of other potential job offers, but I want to do this because it’s going to broaden my horizons and allow me to experience health care in populations and areas I might not typically be exposed to during medical school. I think from my background up until this point, I have not been able to see a lot of the challenges and struggles that there are in the disparities in the health care field. Being able to spend that year with a completely different population group will help me view my future career through a different lens and help me be better prepared to handle issues that people face within the field.”
He left the interview with a message for his fellow Villanovans, “I think an important piece of advice for any student, no matter what field they’re pursuing, is to find an area or region of interest that really captures your mind, something that you’re really interested in, and something that you can see yourself expanding upon. What I mean by that is you should find an interest, and then really hone in on that interest by putting all of your efforts into it. For me, I came into Villanova as a pre-health student, but after my time here, I became interested in immigrant and marginalized populations and service through that lens through my study abroad, my service, and my minors. So, for any student here at Villanova, I think it’s important to find an area you’re interested in and dive deep into it in order to find out how you can make an impact there from a deeper perspective.”