Major: Dietetics/Nutritional Science
Hometown, State: East Dubuque/IL
Type of experience: International Community Rotation
Experience: Iowa State University Dietetic Internship Program
Experience website: http://www.dietetics.iastate.edu/
Destination: Ghana, Africa
The four weeks I spent in Ghana made up the last portion of my dietetic internship program, and what a way to finish! There were 11 interns in the program (6 Americans and 5 Ghanaians). In the first two weeks we underwent training and classes regarding the Ghanaian culture, Ghanaian hospitals and nutrition care, and the culture of the villagers that we would be researching. The final two weeks were much more intense: we conducted research on the village, analyzed the data, composed a research report, and planned several presentations and special events. Sprinkled throughout the month were tourist trips, birthday celebrations, and sweet fellowship with my fellow interns!
I learned about this incredible opportunity through researching distance internship programs. After I graduated, my husband and I were in a situation where we could not pack up and move. This distance internship program allowed me to complete my internship without having to move away from my husband for 6 months. The international portion came as a huge bonus!
An impact to my life...
Although I only spent four weeks in Ghana, the impact it has had on my life is staggering. This was my first international experience EVER! Before the trip I already had passion for interacting with and learning about different cultures and had a desire to engage this passion with my other passion: nutrition. This experience not only confirmed my desire to work in global nutrition and gave me experience within the field, but I was also able to network with global nutrition professionals. I also made lifelong friendships, both American and Ghanaian, and I have been transformed in the way I think about food choices.
My most valuable learning experience...
One of the most valuable things I took away from my Ghanaian experience is how incredibly privileged I have been growing up in America. Before my experience in Africa I took many things for granted. Toilet paper and soap in bathrooms were a given. Clean running water and warm comfortable showers seemed standard. I gave little to no thought about road signs or public school and their benefit to society. Now I realize we have SO MUCH in America! Toilet paper, soap, running water (let alone clean or warm), road signs, and public school are all luxuries and privileges. My perspective has changed dramatically and it has increased my desire to live simply and to work with underprivileged groups.
I will never forget...
One of the most memorable events that I experiences occurred on “durbar day” (a community fair in the village). I had learned a song in the Dangme (the language of the villagers) from our translator. While we were waiting for our guests to arrive, I decided I would see if the children knew the song. I went over to a group of five or six children and started singing the song. The children began to sing with me and before I knew it, I was surrounded by singing village children!
A surprising discovery...
I was surprised by the incredible amount of carbohydrate foods that made up the Ghanaian diet. Correspondingly, the dietary recommendations and the way clients and patients are taught about nutrients is much different than in America. This has absolutely changed my perspective on healthy eating and balanced diet and will impact the way I counsel patients and clients.
Advice for others...
To get the most out of your experience please step outside of your comfort zone and engage the locals in conversation. Try to learn at least a few words in their language; they appreciate it. Try as much food as is safe without judgement; they appreciate that too. Ask many questions and spend as much time as you can with locals and you will make some lifelong friends and learn incredible new perspectives.