Students and global health experts share their experiences working with communities.

Category: Aditi

Life in the Era of Zoom

As I sat down to write this blog, it really hit me that it is already the end of September. It’s been over 6 months since this pandemic started and about 5 months since I began my practicum. Reflecting back, I entered this pandemic with feelings of uncertainty. Transitioning to classes online seemed fine at first since it was already classes we were used to. Since North Carolina cases were not as bad initially, I still saw my close friends safely and following guidelines. Nothing felt like an extreme change.

However, as time went on, the pandemic began to take its toll on me as it inevitably has on everyone else. Even simple things like going to the grocery store became a whole fiasco of timing it so the store isn’t crowded or being wary of grabbing takeout. As we began to bunker down even more strictly, it became hard to not feel frustrated at times.

Needing a break from North Carolina, I ended up going back to my parent’s place for a bit in New Jersey. When I relayed these feelings to my mom, she made a point that I hadn’t considered before. For the first time in over 6 years, I was actually home for more than one week.  I had never considered it given that I talk to my family frequently but once it came to my attention, I thought back to how much I’ve missed in my family life.

Daily walks with my mom and brother.

Daily walks with my mom and brother.

Thinking about this in terms of my practicum, if I had gone to Zambia this summer, I would have missed the time I spent with my family. Don’t get me wrong, I still would have loved to do my practicum in person. However, missing one opportunity allowed me multiple other ones. If I had gone to Zambia, I would’ve spent maybe a couple months then and returned. Despite the challenges that came with doing the practicum remotely, I had the privilege of seeing my project from start to finish. Remote work also allowed for continuity with the project so despite my practicum officially ending soon, I’ll be staying on a while longer to help finish papers. Even though the study I worked on was not the original study I had signed up to do my practicum with, I developed qualitative data analysis skills that I really feel are an assets to future work. Importantly as well, I developed friendships and networks through Zoom, something which I thought would be very difficult.

Learning how to cook different cuisines this summer!

Learning how to cook different cuisines this summer!

As I wind down on my official time with this practicum and work on my deliverables, I am really thankful for the opportunity to work with the Zambia hub. My practicum was everything I had wanted it to be and I got more out of it than I had expected from remote work. I’m grateful for both the community here at Gillings and in Zambia for making this summer a great one!

Aditi

Global Research From A Local Office

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.

My summer office.

My summer office.

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!

Aditi