I’m a senior Nutrition student and current serve as Vice President of WVU Global Dental Brigades. I first heard about WVU Global Medical and Global Dental Brigades in Professor Brewster’s Sociology lecture during fall of my sophomore year. I remember instantly knowing that I had to attend this study abroad. I was in a time of my life where I didn’t quite know my purpose or what I wanted to study. I had a variety of interests and a passion for service and healthcare, but couldn’t quite find a field that suited me. I always felt dissatisfied and constantly wanted to leave wherever I was. I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend the 2016 Spring Global Brigades study abroad to Nicaragua. It was my first time out of the country, and I didn’t sleep much for weeks beforehand due to my nerves and anxieties. Professor Brewster prepared us immensely before departure, but I am a restless, anxious person and this was going to be the boldest leap I had ever taken. I was nervous up until we arrived to Managua, and as we were traveling to our compound, all of my fears were replaced with awe at the beauty of Nicaragua and the stark contrast of landscape between there and home. Once we started into our work for the next 10 days, I instantly felt peace. We counted, sorted, and labeled medicine and supplies during our first day at the compound. We then began our 3 clinic days where we provided medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and gynecological care. I never wanted to leave at the end of each day. Walking around the clinic, interacting with community members, and feeling their gratitude was the most peaceful and meaningful I have ever felt. What struck me was that simply making eye contact and sharing a smile with someone despite all language, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers that may be present was enough to establish a deep, powerful connection. I remember standing in the OBGYN office one day, listening to community women’s stories, and feeling like I was finally in the right place, doing what I wanted to be doing. It was such a striking feeling and I’ll never forget it in my whole life.
We also completed two days of public health work, where we built showers, latrines, washing stations, and septic tanks for families. We also laid concrete floors in the homes. These measures were vital in preventing many of the common illnesses we saw during the clinics. This is where I saw the importance and power of preventative measures in healthcare, and shortly after returning home, I combined my passions of healthcare, cooking, science, and public health to pursue a degree in nutrition. I see proper nutrition as the most preventative approach to many chronic diseases we face.
Now, I feel like I am doing what I meant to be doing. I work in a research lab and focus on many Appalachian public health issues, from mental health and substance abuse to childhood obesity. I plan to pursue a PhD in Public Health upon graduation in May 2018. If I had never attended the Global Brigades study abroad, I may have never ended up where I am. Because of their amazing holistic model and my life-altering experience, I would like to one day work for Global Brigades. Experiencing the culture, beauty, and people of Nicaragua left me with an inner peace that I don’t believe I could have come across without attending this study abroad. This spring break, I will be returning to Nicaragua for my third experience with WVU Global Medical and Global Dental Brigades. I am excited to see what we accomplish this year and to return to Nicaragua, though I always carry it with me.