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Practicing and Learning about Public Health in Ghana

This week the Office of International Education sat down with Seva Poitevin-Mills ’21 a health and society major to talk about studying and interning Ghana last fall. Poitevin worked at the West Africa Aids Foundation while abroad. In our conversation, she discusses the intersections of practicing and learning about public health while in Ghana.

Can you tell us where and when you studied abroad? And why did you choose that program?

I studied abroad in Ghana in the Fall of 2019. I chose that program because I wanted to challenge myself in a completely new environment. I wanted something as different as I could get. I also wanted to be able to take more specialized public health classes and get to have hands-on experiences.

What was the focus of the work you did at the West Africa Aids Foundation? How did the internship connect with your studies at Beloit College?

While interning at WAAF, I helped out with a lot of community research and desensitizing. Basically I walked around different neighborhoods and asked questions about what types of outreaches they would feel comfortable going to and what their health care was like. My final project was a women’s sexual health outreach that talked about condom use, STIs and breast cancer self-check. At Beloit, we learn a lot of theory and background knowledge. With my internship, I was able to put the theory to use and was able to have more of a broader public health understanding.

What was the most important or interesting thing you learned while interning for them?

I learned first hand how nonprofits actually work and how bureaucracy and corruption can get in the way of a well-intended organization. I also became familiar with the biochemistry and machinery behind HIV testing, as well as cultural barriers to getting tested/treatment. So much of public health is community health, and I was able to really begin to draw those connections.

What are some challenges you faced while living in Africa?

Adjusting to the heat was an issue at first, but the biggest challenge I faced was being a minority in a very homogenous city. I faced a lot of attention everywhere I went and at first, it was uncomfortable, but eventually, I became used to it. People would take pictures of me in public and children would ask to look at my wrist because my veins showed through my skin. I realized the photos and questions were not meant to offend but more out of genuine curiosity.

What was something unexpected that you learned while abroad?

I learned how international political economies were connected and how much influence America has on other countries’ economies. I did not learn that formally, more informally from talking to international students from other African and Asian countries. I also learned about genetically modified organisms and the positive and negative effects they have on local agriculture. I learned that from the nice ladies at the market by my dorm.

How did your semester abroad shape how you think about your future and career aspirations?

Going abroad made me want to work internationally instead of domestically after graduation. There were whole career fields I was unaware existed. Now, I’m planning on working internationally in a way I was not before abroad.

One of my professors told me: you learn public health in North America, you perform public health in Africa.

What advice would you give to students thinking about studying abroad in Africa?

Go for it! It is completely worth it and pushes your comfort zone. The experiences you have are totally unique to the culture and location. Experience globally, especially in Africa also looks great on resumes.

Katherine Jossi ’20
February 26, 2020


Katherine Jossi

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