Alyssa studied in Zambia on the Global Health Scholars Program of the Penn State College of Medicine in Summer 2016.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
Studying abroad will drastically change the way you think! Working in global health broadened my perspective and made me a more humanistic and empathetic student doctor. The ability to force myself out of my comfort zone in order to understand another culture and way of thinking will hopefully improve the quality of healthcare I will deliver to my patients both at home and abroad.
What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?
I am very shy in social situations, but as a college soccer player my background in soccer helped me to bridge that initial awkward introduction to a new community. Traveling with a soccer ball, a ball pump, and some needles enabled me to form relationships with people everywhere I have traveled: Panama, Honduras, Ghana, Zambia, Haiti, Botswana, Madagascar, and more!
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
The Global Health Scholars Program is slightly different than traditional study abroad in that it is a 6 week long ‘summer semester’ working in a country and learning about Global Health. I chose to travel to a hospital in rural Zambia because of the strong influence village culture still has on public health there. I was able to learn about the complicated interface between administration of western medicine and African tribal culture.
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
Be smart, but be fearless. You may never have the chance to learn like this ever again, so take advantage of every single opportunity you have to learn something unique, meet someone new, or participate in a different culture.
Share an experience where you interacted with someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something.
If a native of rural Zambia wants to eat meat, then the family slaughters one of its chickens or cows. After being in Zambia for 3 weeks, I decided I could no longer handle being a vegetarian and asked Constrida, a Zambian who worked on the research project I was working with, to come teach me to kill a chicken. First, we bought a village chicken and carried it back to our home where we killed it, plucked it, removed the innards, and later prepared it for ‘family dinner’ which included all of my colleagues from the research institute. Although I can’t imagine another scenario where I will need to kill my own chicken, I felt as though I gained a useful skill that day. My coworkers all said that was the day I became a native Zambian woman.