My STEP signature project was an education abroad trip to Tanzania studying HIV. This experience exposed me to global health through the history and microbiology of the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and to the public health response in Tanzania by the government and local communities.
When I left for Tanzania, I left with no real plan. My goals were to learn and immerse myself into the culture and way of life found in Tanzania. Letting go of the comforts of home and adjusting to the differences of my new, temporary home were harder than I expected, but allowed me to be transformed by the experience. Study abroad classes offer a unique element that other classes don’t. Being in Iringa, Tanzania, where the HIV prevalence is 9%, I saw how health projects impacted the area and explored reasons that some projects or initiatives failed. Through trips to the lab to learn about microscopy, a trip to a rural clinic, and with various local NGOs, I was able to see the numerous ways HIV has effected the area. There is a difference between only reading about an area and its problems and actually being in the area seeing and experiencing the same problems. Each excursion built upon information learned in class from discussions and readings. The out of class experiences strengthened my knowledge of the concepts and allowed me to make new connections across the different aspects of the class and HIV. Being in the country and seeing the response to the HIV epidemic also showed me how interested in public health I am, and has made me want to add a public health minor when I return to OSU this fall.
I made many new relationships during the month I was studying in Africa. Spending every day with the other students, we got to know each other very well. Many students in the class applied due to their interest and minors in global public health. After hearing about their minor and how their classes related to the different aspects of our class, I became interested in adding a global public health minor to my studies.
This interest grew with every person we met that had been affected by HIV. The last visit we had as part of the class in Iringa was to a local HIV support group. The group was made up of people of a variety of ages all dealing with being infected with HIV. The group met to support each other both emotionally and financially when going through hard times. They were even working on buying chickens to start a business as a way to bring in more money and we were able to donate money to help them reach this goal. By being part of the group, members were able to help each other stick to their medications and through difficulties they faced by being infected with HIV.
The group was lead by a woman who had done work with an NGO and had training on forming and running support groups. Even though the NGO that trained her had shut down, she was still able to form the group and begin to reach out to others with HIV to help them with treatment. Meeting with this group and seeing the impact of the work of NGOs in the area, showed me how important funding from international groups such as USAID is. I also realized that public health isn’t just about clinics and medicine. Without education and training to send people into communities, groups like this one wouldn’t be around to support the community. Seeing the impact of this group showed me how much more there was to public health than I thought and made me want to add a global public health minor even more.
I have come to recognize many benefits to studying abroad. Each trip offers the ability to become independent, develop personal skills, develop language skills, experience a new way of life, and most importantly, change the way I think about and approach issues. After immersing into a new culture and way of life, I am able to better look at issues from a local perspective. This experience had these benefits, but additionally showed me an interest in public health that I didn’t know I had. The experiences and lessons I have learned from this trip will stay with me beyond the end of the class and the addition of a public health minor will impact me throughout the rest of my college career and also my life post graduation.