Maria, Vanderbilt

Public Health in Colombia, 2018

Maria, a Medicine, Health & Society & Latin American Studies undergraduate from Vanderbilt University tells us about her participation in the 2018 Public Health in Colombia course.

“My experience during the program was amazing! The program provided everything I wanted out of it and more. As an undergraduate student, I haven’t yet had much exposure to topics in public health, but the course content made sure to provide an excellent overview of what all public health has to offer. Each class not only provided a great foundation, but also gave me the knowledge necessary to begin an in-depth exploration on the things that really piqued my interest, such as maternal mortality and the adaptation of the healthcare system to increasing migration. I also thought it was amazing to be able to see how the things we learned in class applied to the real-life public health situation in Colombia through the academic excursions. I’ve come to realize that there is inherent (albeit unintentional) bias in anything you’re taught, so I thought it was really interesting to be able to compare the knowledge I gained in class with the perspective of those at the various public and private organizations we visited in the afternoons. In fact, one of my favorite takeaways from the program came during the final lecture, when our professor told us, “Always question the data.”

Most of what I knew before arriving in Bogotá concerning the political situation of Colombia came from my parents, who grew up here and spent most of their adult lives in Medellin before immigrating to the United States. During this trip, I’ve been able to really appreciate the country in my own way, building off of what my family has taught me. For example, my parents are strong supporters of Duque, so most of the conversations I had before coming on this trip about Colombian politics were very one-sided. My parents were also strong supporters of President Uribe, who took a very tough stance on the FARC during his presidency. I feel so privileged to have been able to be in the country in the midst of a presidential election, because I really challenged what I’d been told and what I knew during conversations both in and outside of class.

In addition, the social and cultural events I took part in during the program were superb. Being Colombian myself, I recognized a lot of the things that were new to many students in the program. I grew up eating arepas, drinking tropical fruit juices, and speaking Spanish in the United States, but to be exposed to an authentic Colombian way of living life was truly an experience. (My family even says that my Spanish took on a Bogotá accent!) I played tejo for the first time, a Colombian sport involving rocks, firecrackers, and beer. I explored La Candelaria and found so many hole-in-the-wall cafés and bars. I hiked up to the tallest waterfall in Colombia, in the town of Choachi. I got to hear an artist explain the meanings behind the many pieces of graffiti that decorate Bogotá. I did so many things that allowed me to reconnect with my culture in a way I could never do at home. My favorite part of participating in the Public Health in Colombia program this summer is that it allowed me to grow academically while giving me the freedom to grow a cultural awareness and appreciation for the country I come from. Still, there is so much more to see and do. My love for Colombia has done nothing but grow immensely these past four weeks, and I will definitely be back soon as possible!”