Cape Town South Africa Summer Field School
Q: What is UVA in Cape Town South Africa Summer Field School?
A: It’s a five-week summer program for students interested in public health and medicine. The field school fully immerses participants in a public health project from inception to completion. You will start with a preparatory project, which helps you understand the community and how to effectively interact with community members. As a music major, my preparatory project was to explore the role of music in our township! My teammates and I spent hours going door-to-door asking residents what types of music they listen to!
After presenting the preparatory project, you will be assigned your main project. There are students from many different academic backgrounds, so projects change every year based on the background of participants and needs of the community. Some projects are more pre-health focused and some are heavier on anthropology. I was part of a team of six undergraduate students working on social behavioral effects of chronic illnesses in the community. Our project required a public health and anthropological approach. I have engaged in public health projects in the past, but what made this program unique was the utilization of anthropology to help produce results for some core public health issues.
Q: How did you learn about this program?
A: During my Critical Public Health PHS2559.
Q: What made you decide to engage in this clinical opportunity?
A: I took a J-term course in critical public health. I was quite nervous both because it was my first public health course and a J-term course. The coursework was quite heavy, but within two weeks, I found myself fully engaged in the topic. Towards the end of the term, our instructor introduced the program, and I decided to take what I had learned to the next level.
Q: What did your experience in this position consist of? Can you describe a typical day?
A: A typical day would start with Xhosa lessons. Xhosa is the local language in our township, so we spend an hour everyday sharpening our language skills before going out to the community. Every project was led by a public health professional as project advisor and a local resident as translator. After mapping out the area and identifying our interviewees, we would go conduct our interview which would typically take about an hour. During each interview, we had two teammates ask questions and one take notes. After each interview, we would reconvene to reflect and discuss the quality of the interview. After an hour break around noon for lunch, we continued the interview and discussion cycle until 5pm.
Q: What distinguished this opportunity from other options you might have pursued?
A: I have always enjoyed public health, fieldwork, and in general community work, but I was always doubtful if I could do well abroad. This program helped me realized how much I enjoy fieldwork and community work. In the past, I feared language barrier and cultural differences might get in the way, but we are all part of human race and with some genuine mindfulness we can connect each other regardless of the language we speak or our cultural background. As result, I’m applying for Peace Corp after graduation.
Q: Why do you recommend this opportunity for other UVA grads?
A: The program has an extensive focus on health disparity and equity; this topic is also very significant in many communities here in the U.S. Therefore, for those who are planning to pursue a degree in health or work in underrepresented communities, this program is an invaluable experience. For those who are planning to pursue medicine, this program would help them to establish and maintain a stronger and more meaningful connection with their patients in the future.
Q: How did this experience help to prepare you for your next step?
A: First and foremost, this program helped me to expand my view towards health work in general. It enabled me to identify multi-layer issues around health disparity and choose an effective method of analysis for further studies. In a broader sense, this program made me a better observer, a better listener, and a better teammate, all of which are essential for my future fieldworks. It also helped me develop a greater sense of respect and appreciation towards different perspectives through hours and hours of fieldwork.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: Life starts at the end of your comfort zone, so never fear challenge but be prepared!
Pouya Pairo is a 4th year transfer student in the College majoring in Music. He is the Vice President of Programs for Daniel Hale Williams and has served on the Pre-Health Student Leadership Advisory Board for two years. He is interested in public health and the osteopathic approach to medicine.