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06/23/2014

African Reflections

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Post by Maria Harlan from Indiana University Bloomington

When I first came to Gaborone, Botswana I did not know really what to expect. Whenever I travel I try to come with a blank slate in order to learn and absorb as much as possible. With this goal I knew I had to open myself up to all of the possibilities for growth and experience, and to be aware of my surroundings as I began to learn. This far into the trip I would have never expected to learn as much as I already have. During the past three weeks I have learned more about public health, Setswana, my travel companions, and to my surprise, myself.

Health care and the developing world has always been a passion of mine, and that is why I pursued a study abroad program in public health. Through my clinic rotations and public health lectures I have began to form my own understanding of health care in a middle-income country as well as the struggles and benefits of government health care. I often find myself comparing the treatment one receives in America to here in Botswana and I not only see how much more advancement is needed in this country, but I also feel very grateful for the care that I receive back in the states.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is immersing yourself into the culture of your surroundings. In Botswana, the Setswana culture is something that permeates all aspects of society and this fascinates me.  Through our classwork and excursions we have already had many opportunities to discover the Setswana culture. My favorite experience so far was this past weekend when we went to Bahurutshe. While there, we went hiking, learned about village life, and watched traditional dancers. I really appreciated this opportunity because it allowed me to organically learn about the country through first hand experience.

Image1The group after a hike to see the caves in Bahurutshe.

Image1Some local women sharing their lives with us so that we could understand more about village life and practices

Image1Before dinner at Bahurutshe we enjoyed a group performance from the traditional dancers.

The one thing I really was looking forward to the most before my travels was getting to know the others I would be traveling with. Often times the group you are with can make or break your experience. On my trip I have been extremely lucky to be surrounded with such amazing people from all over America, as well as local volunteers who have been traveling with us. I know that by the end of our travels we will all share something with each other that no one else does, and this will bond us for life.

Lastly, this experience has taught me much about myself. I have had so many chances to further understand my values, my personality, and what I want to do with my life. Botswana is challenging me to push myself academically through the coursework and clinic rotations. I am becoming close friends to people I would have never met or had the opportunity to other wise. As well I have had many opportunities to reflect on my life, college experiences, and choices, which I would not had if I was doing anything else. I am so grateful for this experience and I cannot wait for everything that the next 5 weeks offers. I know I will be a different, and better woman when I return to the states and I have Africa to thank for that.


Image1The group after another hike in Bahurutshe

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