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By Heidi Hannoush, Undergraduate Intern

From public health to divinity school, recent ECL graduate Rachel Sauls has found that her English major became invaluable in some unexpected places! 

Even before college, Rachel knew she wanted to earn a Master of Divinity degree in graduate school. But as an undergraduate at UNC-CH, she didn’t want to focus on religious studies just yet. Rachel knew she was also interested in the intersection of religion and health narratives, which was partly based on her own experiences. This fascination led Rachel to the ECL’s “Science, Medicine, and Literature” classes and, eventually, an English major! 

Rachel, who will be starting at Yale Divinity School in Fall 2021, elaborated on how she has benefitted from her English classes. “I think that lots of different classes and texts helped me explore … the situations that we encounter in life that change what we believe or how we see ourselves fitting in the world.” Rachel explained that these broad perspectives have helped her think on individual levels about what might be useful for people in times of suffering, a topic she plans to explore in divinity school.

Through the Master of Divinity program, Rachel plans to explore working as a hospital chaplain, someone who provides spiritual guidance to patients. “My experience with literature has been a willingness to sit in the discomfort of someone else’s experience,” she remarked. “Reading and literature have helped me to seek out different ways that people contextualize and make meaning from their experiences. I’m hoping that will be helpful as a hospital chaplain.”

Being able to derive meaning from stories and narratives is something Rachel has found useful in non-profit work as well. Since graduating from UNC, she has served as an Americorps member and worked closely with nonprofits. Rachel now works part-time at a feminist religious nonprofit and part-time at a food distribution nonprofit, where she has found that “listening to client stories is a big part of the job. Being trained to take a narrative and pull out what’s important…has been a really useful skill.”

In addition to these cross-disciplinary abilities, Rachel says the English department has helped her on a very practical level. While applying to graduate school, she claims professors were generous in providing contacts, advice, and time — not to mention the benefit of receiving recommendation letters from great writers!

Although she is not working in academic studies of English today, Rachel believes her ECL degree has been valuable. “I feel grateful to the English department even though I’m not in a position that feels directly connected; it’s been really useful!”