Sometimes it takes sleeping on the rooftops of village houses, many on public buses, and lots of volunteer work at clinics to fulfill your academic interests while studying abroad. Three Mac seniors—Charalambos Argyrou, Katherine Ehrenreich, and Taryn Valley—recently spent a semester abroad, pursuing their public health research interests through studying rare diseases, local health service systems, and tough living conditions in various parts of the world.
Charalambos ”Charlie” Argyrou ’14 (Nicosia, Cyprus) participated in SIT’s Development Studies program in Kampala, Uganda. Double majoring in biology and anthropology, he was interested in studying rare diseases such as the Ebola virus, a severe fever disease mostly seen in Uganda. Struck by the sudden outbreaks since 2000, he did his independent research on the spread of Ebola, closely assessing the Ugandan government’s capacity to deal with an outbreak in the capital.
Argyrou spent his weeks taking round trips on mutatus, the public buses, to see how much contact people have with each other on a daily basis. He also took field trips to northern villages, where most past outbreaks had occurred. Argyrou’s main challenge, however, was finding public officials to talk with. “In Uganda, email is pretty much useless,” he says, leading him to spend days visiting government offices in the hopes of finding an actual official to talk with. His research led him conclude that the health system in Uganda does not have the capacity to effectively handle public health emergencies.
Anthropology major Katherine Ehrenreich ’14 (Deerfield, Ill.) traveled to India to pursue her research interest in neglected tropical diseases affecting sexual and reproductive health. In her research, she focused on the social stigmatization of unmarried women infected by Japanese encephalitis (JE), a virus that causes severe neurological disabilities typically acquired during childhood. Assisted by a translator from Developmental Association for Human Advancement, a local NGO, Ehrenreich spent four weeks at two different villages in the northern region of Uttar Pradesh interviewing local families with a JE history.
She was welcome in the villages, where women would share their extra blankets with her while sleeping on the rooftops of local houses. Her presence as a “young, white American girl,” however, did set her apart: The whole village would congregate to listen in on her interviews, insisting she sit in a higher status woven seat as a sign of respect. “It was very challenging, but I learned a lot about how to handle difficult and uncomfortable situations,” says Ehrenreich. She is planning to incorporate her research into her senior capstone presentation, and anticipates that she will continue studying similar diseases in the future.
Taryn Valley ’14 (Newton, Mass.) spent a semester in Argentina, studying how a new health care financing system was implemented in low-income clinics. Although taking classes and living in Buenos Aires, she conducted her research in Santiago del Estero, an underdeveloped district in the north, where she was connected to low-resource clinics through a local NGO. Valley spent weeks at the local clinics conducting interviews and doing participant observation. She alsointerviewed provincial and national level administrators.
The final result was a 30-page paper summarizing her findings, which she wrote in Spanish. Next, Valley will incorporate her findings into her International Studies honors thesis. She also has applied for a Fulbright project to expand her work. Recently, the NGO she volunteered with told her they were impressed by her skills and positive disposition. This made Valley see the human, as well as academic, value in her work. Before, research had seemed distant and highbrow. Now, she says, “I love that research can help me comment on policy while making friends I’ll have for a lifetime.”