Hello friends, family (miss you mom!), interested students, and curious internet wanderers,
We are 27 students from various universities in the United States studying this fall semester in DC, India, South Africa, and Brazil in the “Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care” program. This semester is very different from a typical semester in college, and not only in location. A major theme of this semester is experiential learning, which is evident in our format and day-to-day activities. Keep reading and we will tell you a little bit more about them!
We are taking 4 courses throughout our time on IHP – Health, Culture, & Community, Community Health Research Methods, Public Health, and Globalization & Health. The first two courses are taught by our traveling faculty member, Dr. Joshua Cohen, who’s originally from England. Using his knowledge of medical anthropology, he’s taught us the basics of anthropological research in health within cultural contexts, as well as how to be aware of our own biases in our research.
The latter two courses are taught by local faculty in each country. In DC, Dr. SherriLynn Colby-Bottel, who is also the Program Director for IHP Health, taught us the various impacts of globalization and the differing views of it as detrimental or beneficial to society. In Public Health, we were taught the ways in which social, cultural, economic, and political conditions can lead to health disparities in a community.
The classes in DC took place at the Quaker Friends’ Meeting House of Washington near Dupont Circle. A group of us attended a Sunday morning Quaker meeting out of curiosity and reciprocity towards the organization for letting us use their space as our temporary classroom. The entire meeting was silent, except for moments where members were moved to speak, and at that time, with obvious considerable thought, words of wisdom flowed from their mouths.
Each country that we travel to, the program designed and hosted by a country coordinator, who is responsible assisting our learning community navigate each country context. In DC, our country coordinator was Lindsey Gillies, who is an alumna of IHP and former Trustees Fellow. She is a licensed midwife who is passionate about fertility work and female empowerment. Along with planning many of our events and guest lectures in DC, she also gave us a mini lesson on sexual education and birth.
Another member of the traveling team is our Trustees Fellow, Jillian Blouin. Jillian is the “mom” of the IHP group, and the go-to person for any and all road bumps that we may encounter along the way. Together, Jillian, Josh, and the 27 of us make up a supportive traveling learning community that looks forward to learning and growing together over the next 14 weeks.
A unique aspect of the IHP program is the formation and execution of case study group research. This is part of our Community Research Methods class but is also a hallmark of the IHP experience. We have broken up into five different groups surrounding the topics of Mental Health, Maternal and Child Health, Traditional Healing, Environmental Health, and Infectious Disease. Throughout the semester each group will conduct research through interviews with people from different backgrounds within each topic. Each group will narrow down their research to a focused research question in order to compare their results throughout the different countries we visit. We are all very excited to be researching more specific topics that pertain to our individual interests and to see where our research takes us within each new country. Since our time in DC was so brief, our case studies consisted of one pre-arranged meeting with an NGO in the area. In the future we will conduct case study research over the course of many days and get to focus our area of study based on our group’s interests.
Other essential elements of the learning experience on IHP include, Neighborhood Day, site visits with local NGO’s, and numerous guest lectures. We began this cycle during our first week in DC, when we split into small groups to go on our first Neighborhood Day expedition. We went out to three neighborhoods in DC: U Street, Anacostia, and East Capital. We interviewed at least three people in each area, observed our surroundings, and gained knowledge about the history (particularly involving gentrification) of every neighborhood.
During the second week in DC, we went on two site visits, to DC Central Kitchen and the World Bank. At DC Central Kitchen, a well-established NGO, we learned about their extensive programming to combat food insecurity in DC. Their efforts include “Healthy Corners” (an initiative to get healthy foods into corner stores) and the provision of meals to homeless shelters across the city. We were all particularly impressed by their chef training program for people who were previously incarcerated, homeless, or addicted to substances. A few days later, we visited the World Bank, where a member of the communications team talked to us about the organization’s origins, history, and current mission. We were left with some major unanswered questions, which the AMAZING cafeteria food almost made up for! Despite admitting past faults, the person we chatted with was not inclined to take a critical look at the World Bank. We later discussed the dynamics between the World Bank and its development projects across the world, and we look forward to seeing firsthand how “international development” projects actually play out in the countries that we are visiting!
In addition to site visits, we have had several memorable guest lectures focused on topics such as the Affordable Care Act, Environmental Justice, Urban Agriculture, Maternal and Child Health, amo ngst others. A common theme that ran through several of the lectures was the importance of culturally competent healthcare, or the understanding of health, illness, intervention, and treatment as situated within a patient’s individual context.
Alicia Wilson spoke to us from La Clinica del Pueblo, a medical clinic in the DC area that specializes in providing culturally competent healthcare to immigrants from Latin America, particularly those from El Salvador. La Clinica was founded during the Civil War in El Salvador, in response to the huge influx of El Salvadorian immigrants to the DC area, who were unable to engage in the systems that were already in place due to cultural and linguistic barriers. La Clinica del Pueblo aims to lower these barriers to healthcare access by providing services and resources that are tailored to the specific wants and needs of this previously marginalized community.
Another guest lecturer, Kiefer Patterson from HIPS, echoed the importance of maintaining cultural competence when designing and implementing health interventions. HIPS is a harm reduction agency, aimed at engaging with some of DC’s most vulnerable populations, namely those who are HIV positive or engaged in sex work. He stressed the necessity of providing these marginalized communities with outreach and care that is nonjudgmental and sensitive to their highly individualized experiences within society. Moving forward with our cross-cultural adventures, these guest lectures have provided us with an invaluable framework with which to approach health that will allow us to ask better questions and come up with more sensitive answers.
Outside of lecture time and case study visits, we had plenty of time to explore Washington D.C.! We had weekend and afternoon free-time during which we were able to take advantage of many of the (free) activities the city had to offer. The Holocaust Museum, the Newseum, the Building Museum (which had a giant adult ballpit,) and the National Zoo were all popular destinations. We also, of course, took time to see the monuments and see the White House. One of our favorite free-time activities was actually eating! We had several group dinners, which gave us the opportunity to try different foods ranging from Ethiopian to Thai. Alumni Dinner with delicious Indian food. This gave us an opportunity to meet IHP alumni living in the DC area. It really shed light on the amazing impact IHP has on its participants!
However, no restaurant experience could match up to the collective dinners we had at the hostel. Collective dinner times were opportunities for members of the group to showcase their cooking skills. We picked three different themes: Fiesta Friday, Pie Night, and Comfort Food, and split up into cooking teams. On Fiesta Friday we had a beautiful taco buffet laid out complete with guacamole and salsa. On Pie Night, the group made homemade pizza pies and Katherine spoiled us with chocolate, apple, and peach-blueberry pies all made from scratch! Comfort Food night was our last collective dinner and it included mac and cheese, chili, corn bread, scrambled eggs, and fruit salad. It was the perfect meal of all of our favorites from home to send us off before we left the country!
Reflecting on these past two weeks is difficult given the breadth of academic and extracurricular experiences we have had during our time in Washington, DC. There have been moments of nervousness, excitement, inspiration, fatigue, and an overwhelming eagerness about finally being abroad. Spending time in the capitol has provided us with a fairly comprehensive understanding of health and wellbeing in the American context which will serve as a basis for our intercontinental comparative study of health and wellbeing over the course of the semester. We are group of learners from many universities, with various experiences and perspectives, which has enriched our discussion of race, systems of power, and the social determinants of health. As we prepare for our travels to India we have reflected extensively upon our hopes and fears as well as our privilege and positionality as students in foreign spaces. With this, we feel ready to experience the food, the homestays, the site visits, and the history, culture, and political climate in India, especially as it all relates to health and healthcare delivery.