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.
After attending graduation and making a few final goodbyes at the Lakefill on Saturday, a myriad of thoughts—many of which involving the upcoming weeks in Mexico City—rushed through my head as I walked alongside the strangely tranquil Lake Michigan and back to my car. Somewhat overwhelmed with feelings of sadness from parting ways with loved ones, of fear for the unknown in a foreign country, of disbelief at time’s speed, of anxiety over packing and forgetting something, and of concern for my ability to communicate with others in both Mexico and the United States, I found extreme comfort in starting my vehicle, opening the windows, and driving home. I decided to play Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, a song that my roommate and I listened to repeatedly throughout finals week. While we have greatly discussed its various possible interpretations, I was continually reminded of the growing pains to be faced as I prepared to go abroad.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs and having extended family residing in Evanston, I never really counted attending Northwestern as “leaving home”. Family and friends were always present and supportive, and I have yet to encounter big change completely on my own. Stevie Nicks sings of her fear of change, for she also built herself a safe environment around company she valued; however, time challenged her to both accept and somewhat embrace change. Although my worries will probably not disappear these next eight weeks, they will fade (and are fading) with time.
With that thought in mind, excitement for this program was able to re-settle in. I recalled the reasons why I fell in love with this program and racked up the bravery to apply for it. With befriending a host family and other students, taking public health classes that align with my passions and career goals, immersing myself in Mexican culture, improving my Spanish speaking abilities, relearning Aztec mythology and the history of Tenochtitlan, and helping conduct public health research, there are many wonderful experiences to come these next eight weeks. My head cleared up a bit more as I continued to drive more. Handling the “changing [ocean] tides” does not seem as scary anymore.
My name is Qian Kun Tan and I am a junior at Northwestern studying Biological Sciences and Asian American Studies. This summer, I will be studying abroad in Mexico City, on the Public Health in Mexico program. Being able to learn abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences in a lifetime. It provides the chance to place yourself in the context of the world, and to form genuine connections with humans and cultures vastly different than yourself.
I specifically chose this program because of the country and the focus. Mexico is a country that borders our country, but for a country so close and vital to the story of America, how much do we really know about it? That is what I want to learn. What triggered my interest in this program specifically is a class I took last quarter, called Nutritional Anthropology. It opened my eyes to how nutrition is obtained worldwide, and the multilayered impact that aberrant nutritional practices and access can have on health. I believe that to critically understand and help people, we need to understand and acknowledge the places they are connected to. Study abroad provides that necessary on-the-ground approach. The program also provided a wonderful pre-departure workshop. It allowed us to experience and learn various angles of theoretical and practical concepts and applications regarding obesity and nutrition, such as visiting pocket gardens in Little Village. It brought me out of my zone, and into unfamiliar territory that I was able to learn more about, think critically about, and make connections to my everyday life and environment. That is also what I hope to get out of the Public Health in Mexico program.
The other intriguing aspect for me about this program is the chance to live with a host family and a chance to learn Spanish again! Spanish has always been such a beautiful language to me, and its presence is so large and important in the US, so I’m excited to have another chance at it. Even better, it will be amazing to be living with a host family, because interacting with native residents is the best way to learn the language, the culture, and the people. I want to make those genuine connections with people who have had different experiences, because that is the best way to gain knowledge, to learn how to care, and to develop a sense of altruism no matter where you are. I hope that studying abroad will bring me new perspectives on people, culture, health, and life. And I hope it will support the values that I hold dear, and inspire me to act upon those values in the larger community. I’m both excited and worried, hopeful and anxious. Being in a new environment will always be challenging, so being able to adapt and learn to love are my biggest priorities going into the program.
My name is Jason Kim. I am a junior who is currently on the pre-med track, with a biological sciences major and a global health minor. I chose the Public Health in Mexico program before I already had a rudimentary understanding of Spanish that would allow me to integrate into the culture more easily, and because I was very interested in the research opportunities like the project in Malinalco. I’ve been to Honduras before as part of a medical mission trip, and I would like to continue my experiences more extensively in that region in a different country.
I can’t wait to travel to Mexico and take part in the program! Apart from the global health research experience, I have learned in my global health classes that the only way for me to fully understand global health is to understand the cultural aspects of other countries, such as their health systems or social problems, which is something that I expect the study abroad program to provide extensively. I’ll also be able to learn how to live on my own for a long duration of time in a different country, which will help me become more independent in general. A lot of people have told me that their entire perspective on both American and foreign cultures changed completely after being part of study abroad programs, and I anticipate I’ll discover what that means in the very near future.
We’re excited to announce that IPD’s Public Health in Mexico program is being reinstated in summer 2015. And not just that: Northwestern University also just won a grant from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, adding a new dimension to this already robust program by allowing Northwestern to host Universidad Panamericana students in Evanston during the upcoming spring quarter, and to organize workshops comparing health and nutrition trends in Mexico City and Chicago. The grant will also provide roundtrip airfare to each Northwestern student on the program, thus furthering IPD’s efforts to provide sufficient merit and need-based scholarships to any Northwestern student wishing to study abroad on our programs. We would also like to recognize the generous support of the Coca-Cola Foundation to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, allowing us to provide NU and UP students with this very unique study and research abroad opportunity.