Letter Home: Launch Highlights from Washington, DC

“…our bonding thus far has provided us with a crucial community foundation that will serve us well as we continue to discuss what can be difficult-to-navigate topics and face unexpected challenges or experiences while abroad.”

Dear loved ones,

We’ve just landed in New Delhi after a peaceful 24-hour journey. These two weeks in D.C. have been jam-packed with activities, and they have been incredible. In this letter, we, the USA Country Team, will be sharing some of our updates thus far and what we have learned.

Our Learning Community

Before we delved into our intense learning experience, however, we began with team building activities, complete with interpretive dances and a game with a very catchy theme song involving a stuffed weasel named Bob. It is hard not to become friends after activities such as these, but our sense of togetherness was strengthened even further by community building sessions led by our Trustee’s Fellow, Lindsey, where we established expected norms ranging from the serious—“open communication” to the more light-hearted—“no man left behind!”

On the more serious side of things, though, our bonding thus far has provided us with a crucial community foundation that will serve us well as we continue to discuss what can be difficult-to-navigate topics and face unexpected challenges or experiences while abroad. Although a quick intimacy was fostered and has formed within our community, yet another of our group expectations is to maintain continued curiosity for group members and their stories.

Hostel Life

Living in the hostel together provided us with unique opportunities to learn how to live with such a community and to get to know one another – especially because when we get to India, we will be staying with different homestay families throughout the city. Every night in the hostel, there would be groups of people scattered throughout the inviting lobby area or dining room. Wherever we went, we would be greeted by another IHPer’s smiling face. We also had two community dinners in the hostel. We split ourselves into three groups: menu prep, cooking and clean-up. Although they were a lot of work, it was so much fun to see everyone working together to make really delicious meals – we had a taco night and an Asian fusion meal.  In spite of these good experiences, there were also some struggles, such as the questionable hot water situation. It was nerve-wracking to take a shower because we never really knew if we were going to have to rush through a frigid shower.

Over the last two weeks, the hostel became our home. Each of us has taken away such amazing memories from our time there, but we are also thoroughly looking forward to meeting and living with our homestay families!

Some Things We’ve Learned

Our time in D.C. has provided us with a theoretical foundation that will provide us with the necessary critical lens as we continue with our travels. As a community, we are strong advocates of health as a human right. Ensuring the health of a community involves interventions that go beyond health care delivery systems. We learned that there are not only biological determinants of health, but most importantly, social determinants of health. These include, for example, socio-economic status, stable housing, food security, social networks, and environmental purity.

In addition, we also explored ideas around globalization and how it has, and continues to, impact our communities and personal health. Pulling from academic literature and our own personal experiences in D.C. we have been able to see the manifestation of the expansion and intensification of social networks across transnational bounds. All the while thinking about how the acceleration of this process—in the last century—has affected healthcare equity and quality; e.g. commodification of treatment, over-medicalization of health services/practices, the influence of trade on pharmaceutical innovation, etc.

Site Visit: the D.C. Central Kitchen

As part of our experiential learning, we will be visiting a number of external organizations throughout the program. In D.C., we had the privilege of visiting the D.C. Central Kitchen, a social enterprise that prepares 5,200 free, healthy meals to places like shelters and prisons daily; runs school lunch programs; trains those in need to be kitchen staff and chefs, providing them with new employment prospects; and much more. We toured the kitchen, which was packed with industrial cooking equipment, and talked to many of the staff who were either working or being trained there.

The visit was inspiring in a number of ways. First, we realized that this social enterprise was capable of producing nutritious meals on such a large-scale, and was making a positive impact on the health of the community in a sustainable fashion. Second, we were inspired by the students – some of whom were ex-convicts or ex-drug addicts – as they described their experiences in the Kitchen with immense passion and joy. One of our classmates wrote this poem to describe our experience:

This must be magic

A cauldron of thick, milky fluid

A long ladle – the magic wand

Stirring to the rhythms of consistent production

Crisp commands from careful recipes

Conjuring spells to cure hunger


This must be magic

You wonder about the transformation

Of pumpkins into carriages with doors to new paths.

For recoveries of food, health, lives

Are not instantaneous spells;

They are but a creation of opportunities –

With teams of students

Peeling away their layers, like an onion

To do something worthwhile.

The only bars are those of the grill

The only drugs are food and meals

The only syringes are icing tubes

The only refills are cartons of milk.


They say – “listen to your mother.

Never break bread with birds

Never share cheese with rats

Never make moves with snakes.”

This is not magic – this is not fantasy,

This is transformation, goodness and endless strength.


At the DC Kitchen

At the DC Kitchen

Case Studies

Another facet of the program is that we each have a specific health-related area of focus that we carry through to each country. The 28 of us divided into six case study groups: Maternal & Child Health, Food & Nutrition, Mental Health, Traditional Healing, Environmental Health, and Infectious Disease. We will remain in these groups for the rest of the semester and venture out to organizations that cater to each of our topics at least once in every country, all the while developing and investigating a research question. In yet another example of comparative learning, we’ll sum up our experiences at the end of the program with an in-depth comparison of case studies from each country.

To kick things off in DC, we spent a full afternoon split up in six different locations interviewing and observing six organizations relating to our groups. These organizations ranged from the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a policy group that advocates for the rights of pregnant and HIV positive women, to Share Our Strength, a group that campaigns and organizes efforts to provide healthy food and information to low income populations. These site visits provided not only a break from a classroom setting, but also gave us practice in applying research methods we discussed in class (such as “jottings,” as our beloved professor BBJ would call them) and an opportunity to take an ethnographic approach in observing how these professionals work.

Visiting DC’s attractions

After our first day of orientation, we had half a day off for Martin Luther King Jr Day. Many of us utilized this free time to explore some of our capital’s most famous attractions including the Washington Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and most poignantly, the MLK Memorial. It was fun to hang out with everyone in a less formal setting and after a full day of laughing and walking, we were all understandably exhausted.

Fast forward to our first weekend in DC, many of us decided to participate in DC’s Restaurant Week, making lunch reservations at Filomena’s, a homey Italian restaurant nestled in the heart of Georgetown. After consuming a hefty three-course meal, some visited the National Holocaust Museum while others scuttled off to Smithsonian museums. The day concluded with an awesome free orchestra concert at the Kennedy Arts Center. We took advantage of these various opportunities to see more of the city and extend our education beyond the classroom.

Stay Connected

Some of us have been keeping travel blogs, and we invite you to follow them!

  • Sarah Benett: sbgoesabroad.wordpress.com
  • Stephanie Siow: siow-on.tumblr.com (to be added)
  • Grace Chang: Mypostcardshome.wordpress.com

It is hard to fathom that we met for the first time just 2 weeks ago, and now, we have already found in our classmates good friends. Our time in the US was crucial for us to bond and prime ourselves for the next three months. We’ll stay in touch (as much as possible) and keep you updated on what’s going on. We’re excited for what’s ahead!

Yours Sincerely,

Team USA

IHP Spring 2015: Health and Community



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