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Study Abroad Profile: Annie Zhang

Annie Zhang (center) at an island off the coast of Lake Victoria, Uganda

Program: Global May Uganda
Location: Uganda
Rank: Junior
Major: Microbiology

“I studied abroad with the Global May Uganda program in 2014. For me, there were a number of factors that influenced my decision to study abroad in Uganda, but one of the most important was the desire to step outside of my comfort zone. I would probably never have the chance to travel to Africa outside of college and wouldn’t know where to begin if I tried to travel on my own. I was also looking for a program that would allow me to build on my strong passion for social issues and the theme of human security, and this program did just that. Of the many facets of human security, I’m particularly interested in health security and currently conduct HIV research on campus with Jesse Kwiek, PhD. At the height of the HIV epidemic in the 1990s, Uganda stood out as one of the few countries that implemented a successful public health campaign that dramatically reduced rates of HIV transmission. Given Uganda’s unique history in the international epidemic, I wanted to complement my scientific understanding of HIV in the lab with a social understanding of why their government was successful in reducing HIV rates and a human understanding of what the epidemic continues to look like for patients.

In the time leading up to my travels, I worked closely with my resident director, Salome Fouts, to tailor my in-country experience to reflect my interests. During my studies, I had the incredible opportunity to visit hospitals, local health clinics and shadow nurses across the country. The conditions were shocking at times. At one hospital, there were two nurses caring for more than one hundred HIV patients on a single floor. One of the most inspiring parts of the trip was learning about many of the community led initiatives across the country. In one of the rural communities, a local nutrition clinic introduced mothers to new healthy vegetables as alternatives to cassava, a traditional staple crop that has few nutrients. The clinic not only provided healthy meals for malnourished children, but also taught mothers how to grow their own gardens to support their families. Everywhere we went, the health issues in the community were inseparable from other social and economic forces at play. Whether we were speaking to community leaders about access to education, interacting with local students or learning about gender and power dynamics, it quickly became clear how each of these individual issues were all interconnected.

My study abroad experience really opened my eyes to the many healthcare challenges countries face and the kinds of interdisciplinary approaches needed to address them. As I work to tackle health disparities in our own Columbus community and my future career, I hope to continue applying the lessons I learned in Uganda to create comprehensive health solutions that reflect the many social and cultural characteristics of a community.”