Travel and Cultural Intelligence
“Where are you from?” is often the hardest question for me to answer. Do I give the short answer, the long answer, or settle for “it’s complicated” like a provocative Facebook relationship status? Yet that dilemma is a small price to pay for all I’ve gained through experiences living and traveling around the world.
A study from the journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science found that those who engage in multicultural and international environments are more likely to be offered jobs. At surface value, this comes as no surprise; in any arena these days—school, job, socially, or otherwise—it is beneficial to set yourself apart, and “multicultural experiences,” are a great way to do so. But simply accumulating stamps in your passport is not enough. In an article on the study, David Livermore writes “If business travelers spend their time at international hotels and offices; and if study abroad students spend their free time on Skype and Facebook, travel may have little positive benefit for improving CQ (cultural intelligence) and career opportunities.” Travel creates a possibility for transformation through exposure to new cultures and ways of life. But it is easy to pass up that opportunity and flock toward familiarity instead, to head to a Starbucks in a foreign country or find solace from strange surroundings amongst fellow visitors.
The Transformation: How You Engage
Transformative travel requires openness. As more and more and more people seek programmed multicultural experiences— study abroad, volunteering, or simply sightseeing—it is important to evaluate your own goals and the goals of the organization. Responsible international travel necessitates embracing the discomfort and challenges of unfamiliarity, and also willingness to let go of your own authority: to follow the leadership of the locals and see the positive aspects of a community rather than perceived negatives. To me, the most striking overseas experiences have involved connecting with people through common humanness despite apparent differences. These experiences, not traveling itself, are transformative.
I was drawn to work with Child Family Health International (CFHI) because their global health programs promote an immersive experience through community-based projects and perspectives. Interning here and learning about CFHI programs over the past month has made me reflect on my own international experiences. I was born in the U.S. but since age nine I have lived abroad in different countries with my family. Though I have spent much of my life overseas, some who go abroad for shorter periods of time have had more intensive and challenging cultural experiences than mine. It can be easy to entrench yourself in an expat community and become complacent about pushing beyond that.
The study suggests benefits of international travel for your career; I don’t see my experiences overseas as having made me marketable, though I can’t complain if that is a byproduct. Rather, I see travel as the defining aspect of my life that has provided more unique challenges and rewards than anything else. CFHI’s motto encourages students to “Let the world change you,” instead of trying to change the world. It has and will continue to change me throughout my life. And maybe even get me some jobs too.
Special thanks to our guest blogger and CFHI Summer Intern Karoline Walter for authoring this post.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
“Over the past decade, the number of American students in health fields going abroad has nearly tripled, with many opting for programs that take them out of the classroom and into clinics and hospitals. But as participation has increased, so, too, have educators’ concerns.
Far too often, experts say, students are providing patient care—conducting examinations, suturing wounds, even delivering babies—for which they have little or no training. Indeed, as competition intensifies for medical-school slots, some students may actually be going overseas for hands-on experience they could not get in the United States, in hopes of giving their applications a competitive edge.”
The article is entitled “Some Global Health Programs Let Students Do Too Much, Too Soon,” and here at Child Family Health International (CFHI) we couldn’t agree more!
CFHI programs are highlighted in the Chronicle article, including quotes and reflections from CFHI’s Executive Director encouraging students to think about ethical implications of their experiences, and shaping student expectations for what is ok to do abroad.
As the field of global health continues to grow, so too are programs and options available to health students of all fields, often promising opportunities to “help” and engage in hands-on experience beyond their training, skill level, or licensure. From the beginning CFHI has used an asset-based approach for engaging with communities abroad, and encouraging students to “Let the world change YOU.” In this way we position participants of Global Health Education Programs to learn, reflect, and realize that many times the most powerful impact they have in their role abroad is to form connections and relationships with local expert physicians and patients that will serve them in their future careers, as well as learn about the multitude of health determinants and complex global realities that underlie global health challenges. We’d like to extend a big thank you to the Chronicle of Higher Education for helping us spread the word and advocate for social responsibility in health and medical education.
What do you think should be students’ role in health settings abroad? How can students balance enthusiasm for learning while respecting ethical boundaries in clinical settings? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
A Doctor Walks Into a Community..
For healthcare professionals or those on that path, it’s tempting to drop into a community abroad and start treating patients. The stark realities of poverty, lack of resources, and unaddressed illness provides an often disturbing (and therefore motivational) contrast to our Western frame of reference. We are often shocked and saddened. As a consequence, we want to help.
An important question arises however, when we are students or even when we are credentialed professionals visiting a faraway community, what’s the best way to help?
An article profiling Child Family Health International – CFHI’s Global Health Education Programs in the current online edition of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ journal Academic Medicine contrasts two interpretations of ‘helping.’ The article contrasts CFHI’s program structure to that of brigades. Brigades are short-term (often lasting one or two weeks) international activities that set-up clinics in parallel to or completely outside of existing health systems. These temporary establishments are meant to see many patients in a short period of time. Commonly, medications, often drug samples, are brought down from the home country of volunteers and dolled out to patients.
The students writing the article draw an important contrast between the two definitions of ‘helping’ represented by CFHI Programs and brigades. Brigades aim to ‘help’ by directly treating patients using Western physicians and students. But they do so often at the expense of follow-up and continuity of care. Brigades define ‘help’ in a very immediate sense. Contrastingly, CFHI defines helping as empowering local communities and using Western funds to develop and elevate the stature of the native health care workforce. CFHI positions local physicians, nurses, and community members as local experts, in a unique role to teach outsiders about their approach and insight. CFHI believes they are the sustainable solutions to global health challenges.
Humility and Knowledge Key
CFHI’s definition of helping is perhaps more humble, believing we need to first respect and attempt to understand the complexities that underlie global health challenges, rather than trying to address these challenges with immediate auxiliary patient care. This admiration of local health care providers and the goal of first comprehending the complexities of global health disparities is fundamental to shaping the collaborative global health leaders of the future. Before we try to change a reality, we must begin to understand it. This understanding is afforded by CFHI’s Global Health Education Programs.