Student, Service-Learner, and Original Inquirer: Reflecting over my 9-week STEP Project in Heredia, Costa Rica

STEP Reflection

Fall 2018

Name: Carra Gilson

Type of Project: Study Abroad and Service-Learning experience

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

The experience that I applied my STEP funds toward allowed me to engage in a nine week experience abroad, to both finish my Spanish minor through five weeks of coursework, and to participate actively as a service learning participant with two different local host organizations; Hogar Madre Berta (a nursing home) and Clínica CEDCAS (a private clinic and public community engagement center) to incorporate public health perspectives and practices.  Throughout the entirety of my experience I was placed within a host family, which extended my view of the linguistic dynamics of the Spanish language and further connected me to a deeper understanding of the integral role that family plays within Latin American culture.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

During my five weeks of coursework I was introduced not only to the technical terms and approaches to the Spanish language, but also cultural and historical impacts that continue to drive aspects of Costa Rican and Latin American culture which are evident in daily life. Furthermore, the two courses in which I engaged were incredibly influential to my development of Spanish speaking, writing and analytical skills that only further empowered me to utilize the language in daily interactions with my host family, fellow students and locals.


Throughout my last four weeks of the program I had the chance to not only build upon present interventions and programs set in place at both of my sites, but additionally explore and develop solutions for current problems within the communities, from a public health perspective of prevention.


  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Being hosted by two different local host organizations in Costa Rica, I was given the chance to explore public health from a global perspective that could not have been obtained in Columbus. While many of the initiatives set in place at both the nursing home and Clinic I served within were offering similar services and opportunities to the communities that can be found here in Columbus, I encountered a variety of cultural and linguistic nuances that impacted the services and how such care was received within the communities being served. I am thankful for the four weeks spent, specifically at the clinic which I spent a majority of my time in, because through this service learning experience I gained hands-on experience with data analysis, community engagement, and program development that was unique to the populations we were serving and the staff I was working alongside. In particular, I had the chance to further explore the dental health challenges faced within a specific population of Nicaraguan immigrants that live in an area serviced by the clinic. I was able to synthesize and analyze data in a way that provided insights into the impact of current interventions, as well as the need for further investment into specifically early interventions and preventative education. While this experience was unique to the specific area of Costa Rica that I was serving, I look forward to bringing back what I have learned toward greater exploration in the classroom and throughout the Columbus area.

One of my greatest learning objectives for this experience was to improve Spanish skills in order to both hold formal and informal conversations. Thankfully I was able to achieve a speaking ability far beyond what I ever anticipated. While I would not call myself fluent in the language yet, I gained a great amount of confidence in the abilities that I was able to develop, as well as the potential I felt I held within me as I returned home. Another very important objective was to become more aware of the social and cultural influences that contribute to negative health outcomes Heredia, the city and province that I was specifically placed within for my service learning Experience. Thankfully I can also say that I have achieved this objective very well, given the amount of insights I was able to understand and delve into during my time, specifically at the clinic. An interesting influence that specifically comes to mind when thinking about negative health outcomes, which I worked so directly with during my four weeks at the clinic, was the impact that the practice of adding syrup to milk in the bottles of young children has, from the time they are in their first year of life and further on in their childhood. This common, yet dangerous practice leads to many cavities and dental infections that not only create concerns in the first years of life  but also perpetuate themselves when paired with the lack of prevalent or well-practiced dental hygiene and dental care in the country. This is one of many social and cultural influences that contribute to many negative health outcomes in the area that I was serving and throughout the country. I am thankful to bring many of these perspectives back with me as I continue my studies in health behavior and health promotion over the next two years.


A final objective that I set for myself at the beginning of my time in Costa Rica was to effectively communicate both the challenges mentioned earlier and the present interventions being integrated into the community to address the barriers. Most of my time spent at the clinic in Heredia was focused on not only understanding the challenges but developing more effective solutions and potential interventions through prevention education in order to focus on the specific barriers in the community and overcome them by being knowledgeable and intentional. I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had because not only do I feel that I was able to make a small yet sustainable impact on the community, but I will also be able to bring back those experiences to the classroom.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in public health with a specialization in sociology and a minor degree in Spanish, I will continue in my dual degree program through the College Of Public Health to graduate with my master’s degree in 2020. After this graduation it is my aspiration to work toward advocating for improved maternal and child health outcomes, specifically with a focus on infant mortality and prenatal care improvement. I also am passionate about advocating for and potentially working with human trafficking survivors. My overarching goal, post-graduation, is to be an active presence in any mission that empowers women to achieve their fullest potential by reducing barriers, connecting to resources and increasing access to care and opportunities for success.


I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have received funding toward a truly transformational experience over a nine week period. The depth and impact of such an opportunity extends far beyond the nine weeks that I spent in a new country, immersed in the language that I hope to utilize in my future work experiences, and gaining hands-on experience in a public health setting. This opportunity has expanded my worldview of the impact that culture has on health challenges and behaviors, and reiterated for me the importance of an inclusive mindset towards a variety of identities. The support and impact of this STEP program is not something I can put into words, but rather something that I will aim to repay through my actions as an active and dedicated public health professional as I continue my career in this incredible field.

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