Greetings from San Francisco!
After hours of travel from locations across the United States, our group of twenty-two students arrived in the Mission District of San Francisco. The IHP Health & Community staff team greeted us with warmth and enthusiasm! After our opening session and saying goodbye to families and friends, we moved all of our luggage and belongings to the hostel we would call home for the next two weeks.
We came face to face with many salient health issues during our daily commute to and from The Mission. Homelessness may be the most prominent public health issue that we encountered. Our first site visit to the San Francisco Homeless Coalition helped nuance our understanding of homelessness within the social context of the city. Indigent people face a plethora of difficulties that are often compounded by substance abuse and mental health challenges. In the classroom, we discussed how San Francisco’s social geography has been shaped by gentrification, HIV/AIDS, and homelessness. Our exploration of concepts like social identity and structural violence enriched these discussions and helped us to develop an analytical framework that we anticipate using throughout the semester.
We explored the sites and neighborhoods of San Francisco with curiosity and keen interest. Our first adventures took place in Bayview Hunters Point, the Castro, and Chinatown as we developed our skills of observation, interpretation, and communication. We quickly became familiar with San Francisco’s public transportation systems. By the end of the launch, we had traveled via train (BART and Muni), ferry, taxi, and bus. Our visit to the Mission Health Clinic propelled us further into the topic of community health. This outpatient clinic provides services to underserved populations including undocumented individuals and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Here we learned about innovative holistic healing initiatives such as art therapy and embodied expression. Through this and several other site visits, we broadened our understanding of health, wellness, and care.
Our classroom, the Eric Quezada Cultural Center, has served as a space for social activism and community organizing for many years. Its location is central to the Mission District and just a few minutes away from a number of impressive murals that display messages of anti-racism and women’s rights. The Mission is seen as a safe haven for people from all walks of life – from migrant workers to local activists. The Mission is not, however, immune to the issues of homelessness, gentrification, and crime that permeate throughout much of San Francisco.
We welcomed a variety of guest lecturers into our classroom throughout the Launch. Our first speaker Dr. John Balmes provided us with a comprehensive overview of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). During our Q&A with Dr. Balmes, we discussed common misconceptions about the ACA and built a shared understanding of what American healthcare looks like. Jerusalem, a nurse practitioner and global health expert from Ethiopia, was another favorite speaker. She facilitated rich dialogue about maternal-child health and the way it manifests in multiple cultural contexts. One of our final guest lecturers, Eda, shared her knowledge of Peruvian traditional healing systems with us. Her passion for and experience with spiritual care challenged our own attachments to Western biomedical understandings of health.
Through programmatic community building sessions, collective meals, and leisure activities, we cultivated interpersonal connections that will enrich our communal experience throughout the semester. During our community building session in Dolores Park, we practiced intrapersonal reflection and active listening through semi-structured dialogue. Through division of labor in small teams, we were able to plan, shop for, prepare, and enjoy two delicious meals together in our hostel. During our free time, we explored nature trails, ate at local restaurants, visited museums, attended yoga classes, and much more. On our final evening, we celebrated a student’s birthday and our time in San Francisco. We expressed gratitude toward Azibuike, our exceptional Launch Coordinator, and Eshana, our talented caterer and friend.
For many of us, it was difficult to board the bus and wave goodbye to Valencia Street. As we headed toward the airport, San Francisco embraced us with its bright lights and jovial, Friday-night noise, one last time. We will carry the passion and knowledge we encountered in San Francisco with us as we continue on our journey. We are thrilled to see what awaits us in Hanoi, our next destination!
IHP Health & Community: Globalization, Culture and Care
Fall 2015 – Track 2