Friends in Foreign Places

When I first found out I would be spending eight weeks studying abroad in Mexico City this summer, I had a rush of mixed feelings. First came excitement at the prospect of traveling outside of the United States for the first time in my life. I was really looking forward to exploring the countless museums and historical sites Mexico has to offer while also improving my Spanish skills. But at the same time I experienced anxiety at the thought of immersing myself in a foreign culture that I had really only experienced in textbooks.

Thankfully my fears were put to rest weeks before leaving the US. During the spring quarter, seven students from Universidad Panamericana visited Evanston as part of an education exchange known as 100,000 Strong in the Americas. The initiative provided full travel grants for students at UP and Northwestern to travel to the neighboring country, with the goal of fostering a cross-cultural study on obesity and nutrition in Latino communities within Mexico City and Chicago. While the students from UP were in Chicago, Northwestern hosted a pre-orientation that included many seminars discussing recent studies and community efforts related to obesity, perinatology, environmental health, and nutrition.

Overall the program was a great success! Apart from learning a ton of information about public health, I was able to meet many students and faculty from Universidad Panamericana that I worked with during our research trip in Malinalco. Without a doubt, meeting the students from UP in Chicago allowed me to form real friendships before traveling to Mexico and made the transition process much less intimidating.

In the past two weeks, I’ve learned that improving obesity and nutrition is a challenge that extends across the globe and requires international collaboration to develop an effective, sustainable solution. Thankfully, the 100,000 Strong in the Americas exchange program has provided me the opportunity to form friendships with students outside of the United States who are as committed as myself to improving global public health.