IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Fall)

India Letter Home

Dear family and friends,

Greetings from South Africa—we write to you here with some reflections on our time in China. Our month there was split between the bustling national capital of Beijing and the charming city of Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province. Here are a few moments from our experience.

Margaret: Strolling through a knickknack store in Beijing, a theme became clear that we continued to notice throughout our time in China…everything was cute! It wasn’t just posters with adorable pictures or hugging salt and pepper shakers, it was everything! Phones had bunny ears and sweet little faces, sneakers had stuffed animal attachments and fur-covered outsides, and gloves were actually paws. One could pick up a piece of clothing that looked deceivingly simple only to realize that it had bows as pockets or ruffles down the side. Some students were hesitant to partake in the “cuteness” that pervades Chinese style but, in the end, many students left China toting fuzzy panda hats and colorful earmuffs. “Aww” has become a treasured part of our vocabulary and we will miss the smiles our mouths formed every time we saw the trademark of high fashion in China: oversized lens-less glasses with kitschy details erupting from the frames.

Carrie: When we arrived in Changsha, we were greeted with rain! It was a bit of a relief from the heat of India and many dug out their raincoats for the first time. During our month in China we had a few days of glorious sunshine that came with the end of autumn, but many days were cloudy as winter crept closer. Most nights were very cold, made cooler by the fact that many families in southern China don’t bother with heating. The city itself had a very familiar feel—had it not been for all the signs in Chinese you could have almost mistaken it for a city in the United States. Some of us got to experience nature as well; many students went to the mountains at Zhangjiajie for the long weekend or enjoyed the beauty of Orange Island with our host families. We learned to love the street food (like stinky tofu!) and swipe our Central South University student cards in the canteen for lunch. Even though we were in Changsha for just a few weeks, it had already started to feel like home!

Sheilah: My most memorable time in China was when Kelsey and I used Changsha’s public buses for the first time. This may seem an easy task, but we did not know where to get off because we could not read the stop names (which were written in Chinese characters) and, contrary to what we expected, the bus did not make every stop. We had planned on counting stops to know where to get off because our translator, Tracy, advised us to get off after the seventeenth one. Yes, we got lost and, in addition, lost our card that had the name of the mall to which we were trying to go. I've never been so anxious and yet so glad that we got lost and couldn't communicate because it forced us to make new friends. They had a translation app that helped us communicate. We then proceeded to shop and even have lunch with our new friends while talking through the app about our lives and families. Thank you, technology!

Tommy: In China, every meal was an absolute adventure. After mastering the art of finger food in India, we entered the land of chopsticks and Lazy Susans. Our largely vegetarian fare from Chennai ceded in China to a smorgasbord of delicious, if sometimes mysterious, dishes dominated by meat. From chicken feet to oysters, fungus to donkey intestines, pig’s blood to “that animal that lives underground,” Chinese food is myriad things but never boring. And yet, despite the food being foreign to our Western taste buds, Chinese cuisine was tasty to the last bite. Many of us will yearn for breakfast noodles with a fried egg or sautéed eggplant with ground beef for years to come. China seriously knows how to do food right.

Nicole: Language was a really large barrier between the students and the locals in China.   While many people we interacted with in India knew at least some English, very few Chinese outside of the IHP China team knew how to speak much English.  Even getting around could be difficult, since all of the signs were written in Chinese characters.  Every morning, we had basic Chinese lessons to learn phrases which helped us communicate with shop owners, restaurant waiters, and host parents.  Luckily, several students from the school of interpreting and several local medical students were asked to join our team.  They helped us navigate the university, translated at site visits, and worked with our case study groups on specific health topics.  Host parents’ English proficiency varied; some students were with parents that spoke perfect English and others were with families that spoke little to no English.  Basic Chinese really helped in some situations, while in other situations simple hand gestures replaced words as a form of communication.  We all learned how to be more open and patient in our communication with others, how to change the wording of questions and answers to facilitate verbal exchange, and how to slow down and take things one word at a time.

Emily N.: We had the privilege of hearing from many fascinating guest speakers and of visiting many informative sites in and around Changsha. We learned about traditional Chinese medicine, China’s healthcare system, and the aging population in China, among other things. One of our favorite visits was to the Changsha Seniors’ Center where we broke into small groups and spoke with senior citizens about their current lives and experiences living through a changing China. The visit to Shaoshan school gave us a rural perspective on life in China and, in addition, many of us got to see the house where Mao Zedong grew up. Other sites that we visited included a top hospital, a community health center, a factory, and the Hunan Institute for TB Control.

Gina: One of our favorite parts of China was the homestay experiences. Through our homestays, we were able to learn much about life in China and Chinese culture. By involving us in their everyday lives, our families enabled us to get a solid sense of China, from trips to the grocery store to sitting down to meals with each other every night. Our homestay families were so gracious to show us around Changsha including trips to Nanjiao Park, fireworks at Orange Island, and climbs up Yuelu Mountain, just to name a few. While there may have been a language barrier at times, we were still able to create bonds that transcended language. We were truly sad to leave our families and we know the relationships we formed in China will continue beyond our visit.

All the best,
Health & Community, Fall 2012

Written by students: Margaret Kwateng, Carrie Miller, Sheilah Olang, Tommy Laux, Nicole Matteini, Emily Norman, and Gina Orlando

Compiled and edited by: Ben Smith, Trustees’ Fellow

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Credits: 16

Duration: Fall, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
USA, India, South Africa, Brazil

Prerequisites: None. Coursework in public health, anthropology, biology, or related field recommended.

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