One of the first things I did as soon as I arrived at my freshman orientation was finding the Office of Study Abroad. I have always wanted to travel the world, learn about different cultures, and enjoy different experiences, but I have not always had the chance to do so. When I was a child my family traveled some but not enough for me, which is why I was so excited to study abroad in college. But unfortunately for me, the COVID-19 pandemic started in the second semester of my freshman year. Over the summer of 2021, I was able to participate in a virtual study abroad internship experience: School for International Training (SIT) Kenya Virtual Internship in Public Health in the Tropics. Not only did this program fully immerse me in Kenyan culture, but the program also deepened my knowledge of public health promotion and management in the tropics. Participating in this internship has taught me about the importance of public health and the difference in public health in a low-income country versus a high-income
Initially, when I first discovered the SIT programs, it caught my interest immediately but I was confused on which program to apply for. Ultimately I applied for the Virtual Internship in Kenya regarding Public Health in the Tropics. Some of the factors that made me choose this specific program are the location, the internship sites, and the research aspect of the program. During the internship, my peers and I interned at 3 organizations: Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH), and Kisumu County Department of Health. All three sites showed us completely different aspects of the public health system. Additionally, we were required to complete a research project during the internship. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic we were not able to complete the research portion of the internship like it was intended, but we were still able to conduct research by different means.
Looking back at the 6 weeks I can say that I have gained valuable knowledge about East Africa’s public health issues from a policy, clinical, and research perspective. Overall, this internship experience shaped my view of public health, especially as we go through a global pandemic. I learned that many diseases that are not epidemics or even concerns in high-income countries like America are major life-threatening problems in other countries. Furthermore, participating in this internship has taught me more about the Kenya culture and the language of Kiswahili. Initially, I was not aware that as part of cultural immersion I would be taking Kiswahili classes. And I have to admit I was a little scared at first about learning a new language in 6 weeks, but Mwalimu (Teacher) Anne was so kind and patient with us. She truly made it fun and because of her, Kiswahili classes became something I looked forward to over the weekends.
Participating in this internship has also allowed me to understand the importance of diversity because if not for my fellow diverse cohort and mentors I would not have learned as much as did in the past 6 weeks. I deeply value all the input from students and mentors who have shown varied perspectives on the pandemic and other public health issues because it broadens my global perspective as a student who wants to pursue public health.
This program proved to me that it is possible to study abroad (virtually at least) in the middle of a pandemic. Over the course of the past 6 weeks, I have learned so much in incredible depth about public health and Kenya. This program was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn more about Kenya, public health, and to network and learn with amazing people I would have never initially crossed paths with. This program gave me the foundation to understand international public health and healthcare in general. This experience has allowed me to further develop important skills like collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, and data analysis in a real-life setting. In addition, this internship has given me critical experiences like handling raw exclusive data sets. Overall, I believe that this experience will allow me to become a better healthcare professional in the future who understands the importance of public health and the needs of my global community.
Ashely George is majoring in Biology (Pre-Professional) and participated in the summer 2021 URaCE and Office of Study Abroad virtual research internship abroad to Kenya through SIT Study Abroad. Ashely had the following to say about the virtual internship experience, “This virtual study abroad program provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn more about Kenya, public health, and allowed me to network and learn with amazing people I would have never initially crossed paths with. This program not only allowed me to experience a different culture while in the comfort of my own home, but it gave me the foundation to understand international public health and healthcare.”
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