2017 Grant Award: Madison Taylor

Study Abroad, Tanzania

I’m not quite ready to see my two months in East Africa come to an end. Over the past nine weeks, I’ve completed my Global Health Minor fieldwork in Tanzania and returned to Hekima Place Home for Girls in Kenya to volunteer for a second time.Part of me wishes I could stay in Africa, constantly processing, learning, and reflecting for the rest of the summer. Because while this trip has been challenging in a many ways, I believe the ultimate test is yet to come: putting this experience into perspective and preparing to make change as a college fourth-year student and aspiring health professional.

I truly enjoyed my time in both the clinical and non-clinical settings of my field site in Tanzania. The diversity of hospital wards, smaller clinics, global health organizations, village dispensaries and local communities was a nice variety that pushed me to think about where I can see myself working down the road. Throughout my six weeks in Tanzania, I felt my comfort zone expanding as I gained confidence operating in a culture different from my own. The hallmark of my fieldwork experience was my time working on a community mental health assessment in Mkonze, a rural village outside of Dodoma. I also loved my independent travel to volunteer at Hekima Place: reconnecting with the girls, tutoring, designing creative activities for them, and working on the farm. It was amazing to witness such growth in the girls and the organization in the four years I had been away, and it made me realize that service is a core tenet of my life. When I think back on these experiences years from now, I will always remember what it felt like to integrate into a community and develop respectful friendships that transcended cultural differences.

I’m coming out of my fieldwork with more insight into what a career in medicine or public health, both in a global context, could look like for me. After six weeks in Tanzania, I really see the value in pursuing a medical degree to accompany a Master’s in public health. There is one specific moment that stands out in my mind that made me realize that I want to pursue medicine and become a physician. I was observing in the Reproductive Health and Child clinic in Mkonze, watching nursing students and health center staff give young Tanzanians their first vaccines. I remember thinking to myself that if I’m not legally trained to administer a vaccine to a child in ten years, I’m going to be upset with myself. I now know that I want to be on both sides of the clinic doors: encouraging prevention and best practices on one hand, but treating people directly on the other.

Now that I am back in the United States, there are a few main points that are aiding my transition back to home. I’m a bit afraid of falling back into my usual ways: having a consumer mindset, not taking the time to form genuine human connections, and depending on technology. I want to stay mindful, and I can do this by putting down the phone, not rushing, being patient, flexible, and shedding my expectations every morning. Spending time in Africa has encouraged me to practice gratitude and respect for all that I have.When I’m hungry and thirsty, remember that others have it worse. I want to remember the slow pace of life when things are going one hundred miles per hour back at home, and that its okay not to be productive all of the time. I now see the value in taking so much time for reflection, more than you think you need, in order to process the things you are seeing and living everyday. I am so thankful to have space and time carved out this summer for thinking about all aspects of my life: past, present and future. I want to express my mountains of gratitude to the Schreyer Honors College and Presidential Leadership Academy for making this experience possible for me. I cannot wait to see where it takes me next.

Health Case Competition, Atlanta

I’m still processing the incredible experience I had last week that PLA helped make possible. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in college and it came outside of the classroom. I had the honor of being the only undergraduate student on Penn State’s inaugural team for the Emory International Global Health Case Competition held last week in Atlanta, Georgia.

The competition was just a week long, but my commitment to this extracurricular stems back to January. For seven weeks, my team and I went through old case studies to practice solving challenging global health issues. This involved at least five hours of work outside of class each week and a few trips to Hershey, PA for meetings.

After I got back from the PLA trip to Chicago, I went right to Hershey for the weekend to be with the team when this year’s case was released. Our case was about containing a novel infectious disease outbreak at the 2022 World Cup Games in Qatar. I spent the whole week after spring break working on this incredibly interesting subject material, and this proved to be the biggest part of the learning experience. My teammates, graduate students in public health, medicine, and law, were so knowledgeable and wise and I’m grateful to have them as mentors now. The competition weekend itself was intense but our presentation went well, and we ultimately lost to the eventual winners of the competition.

The last piece of this amazing experience was the networking I got to do in Atlanta. Dr. Wenke Hwang, Dean of Public Health Sciences at Penn State, traveled with us to Atlanta so I got to know him very well. In addition, I had dinner with a young female professional who works at the CDC, who I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with for career advice over the next few years. This case competition was by far one of my best experiences at Penn State – thank you again to PLA for your support!