The time of Covid-19 has brought unprecedented challenges to all aspects of life. Coming to Gillings and being in the global health concentration, I knew from the start that I wanted to go abroad for my practicum. To me, it was meant to be a learning experience in research in another culture and how public health campaigns are approached across the world. With the travel restrictions brought on by the global pandemic, going abroad was no longer an option but as disappointing as that was initially, my practicum has brought me the experience I had once hoped to get.
My work for the summer is focusing on HIV partner testing in Zambia. The study I am a part of is researching methods of partner testing in order to encourage male partners to get tested for HIV with the long term impact of reducing HIV prevalence and improving treatment. As the nature of my work is mainly qualitative, I am learning not only about the HIV partner testing method but about the cultural background, challenges, attitudes, beliefs, and approaches to HIV testing and care for people in Zambia. In addition, I am strengthening my skills with Nvivo, a software for coding data- a definite benefit for future jobs and research prospects.
Like any good learning experience, the practicum so far has not been without its tough moments. Zambia is six hours ahead of North Carolina, allowing for a narrow window in the morning for me to conference with my team. Unfortunately, it usually means either some team members have to stay later in the office or I have to wake up much earlier. Luckily, I work with a wonderful team and the coordination of schedules never feels burdening. With regards to reading transcripts, I went through moments of ‘culture shock’. The approach of HIV care with respect to social structure and norms is quite different there, with aspects I’ve never seen in both the US and India. My first reaction was automatically to question “How is that even acceptable?”, but with the firm reminder for myself in concepts of cultural humility and global practice, I have really taken it as a learning experience and I am continuing to enrich myself through this practicum.
Overall, the practicum so far has been amazing and I feel lucky to have been trusted for taking on this role. I look forward to working with my team and learning more!