Major: Dietetics/Nutritional Science
Minor/option/emphasis: Minor: Child, Adult, and Family Studies
Hometown, State: Huxley, IA
Type of experience: International Rotation
Experience: Iowa State University Dietetic Internship Program
Experience website: http://www.dietetics.iastate.edu/
Destination: Ghana, Africa
The overall experience I had was nothing short of incredible. A group of five other ISU dietetic students and I traveled to Ghana, Africa for the last month of our dietetic internship. We were there to learn more about nutrition and to do research in a underserved village in Ghana. We held focus groups, took anthropometric measurements of children under the age of five, conducted interviews with their mothers using questionnaires, analyzed the data, and came up with an intervention using a community durbar to deliver the information to the village. Along with the amazing amount of information we learned, we also got to partake in some tourist activities including visiting Kakum National Park, Boti Falls and Cape Coast. I am so grateful I got this opportunity and would do it again in a heartbeat.
I attended Iowa State University for my undergrad, so I was aware of the ISU Dietetic Internship. The Iowa-Based with International Rotation was one of the four options for the internship, and I put it at the top of my list, knowing I would love an opportunity like this.
An impact to my life...
The impact this experience had and will always have on my life is hard to explain. I grew up in a small town close to Ames, IA and have never strayed too far from home. Before this experience I had never been abroad and had only been on an airplane twice. Going somewhere like Ghana makes you have a greater appreciation for life and the things you have. Not only did I learn so much more about nutrition in this area, but I learned so much about myself and the goals I have in life. This trip put so many things into perspective and Ghana will always hold a special place in my heart. This experience impacted my personal goals of being the best person I can be and not taking anything for granted. The U.S. is such a great place, but sometimes it is hard not to get wrapped up in things that aren't important. Now knowing how people live on the other side of the world, I have been trying to be appreciative, grateful, and happy for all that I have in life. My education and long-term career goals involve becoming a successful Registered Dietitian and hopefully eventually specializing in working with those with diabetes. This opportunity gave me more insight on the differences in food availability and options in other parts of the world. It is important to know how to help people with nutrition using the food that is available to them and realistic. There is a high prevalence of diabetes in Ghana, due to the high volume of carbs grown there. This experience has already been so helpful, and I know that it will be a great asset and make a huge impact on my future career.
My most valuable learning experience...
I went into this trip really hoping to help and make a difference. I obviously always want to learn but deep down I wanted to know that I was doing something for other people. With the amount of time and resources we had, it was not realistic to want to change the world and save lives. This first clicked when we were in the village and struggling to get participants for the study. We heard things like "You guys have been here before and not much has changed," and "What are you going to give us if we participate?" These comments and questions made me think we were more of a hassle to them than an asset, so I got pretty bummed out. Towards the end of the experience when we were analyzing data, coming up with an intervention, and presenting it to the village, we learned that the percentage of children who were wasted and stunted had gone down from the last time a group of interns conducted research the four years prior. This made me realize and learn that every little bit helps and things aren't going to change in an instant, but I did feel like we were making a bit of an impact and hopefully putting a little joy in their lives. Seeing how the children admired us and having a dance party with them during our community durbar gave me so much joy and hope that they were experiencing a little joy themselves.
I will never forget...
This question is very difficult because I cannot pinpoint just one thing that stood out. Every experience was wonderful because of the people I was with. The other five ISU interns and I clicked so well and right from the start and we all bonded with the Ghanaian interns so well so quickly. When you are living with someone, working with someone, traveling with someone, and going on adventures with someone, that instantly makes your bond so strong. I loved every single person that was a part of my journey and now I have so many life-long friends that came out of it. The times when we were done working for the day and played cards together and learned about each others' lives and different cultures were some of my fondest memories. Each person impacted my life in a different way, and I hope to never lose sight of that.
A surprising discovery...
One of the biggest things that stood out to me during my experience was how happy people seemed to be in Ghana. I didn't know what to expect, but after seeing some of the living conditions and overall lifestyle, I would not be surprised if people were struggling to be happy. Ever since I have been back home, this is the manner in which I have been trying to live my life. It is definitely not about the things you have or how successful you are, and I have learned that one of the more important things in life is to just be happy.
Advice for others...
My biggest advice would be to do it. Even if you don't want to spend the extra money, be away from loved ones, or miss out on things that are going on back home, I still say do it. I was the most inexperienced traveler and am very close to my family but I wouldn't have changed anything about this experience. You never truly know how other people of different cultures actually live their lives until you see it for yourself. There is no other way to learn about other populations until you are thrown into their culture completely and live in it. The people, the food, the music, the language, the transportation, etc., was all so different and new, but it also made everything so worth it.