Micaella is a second-year MPH student in the Community Health Sciences divisoin with a Global Health Concentration. She completed her practicum at the Instituo Nacional de Salud Publica (INSP) in Cuernavaca, Mexico during the summer of 2014. Micaella worked under the mentorship of Dr. Rene Leyva Flores, the Director of the Unit of Migration and Health (UMYS). Micaella assisted Dr. Leyva and his team in drafting their next research article; she conducted a literature review of faith-based organizations and their involvement in migrant human rights, performed an evaluation of a migrant shelter in Chiapas, and interviewed Central American migrants about their experiences in transit through Mexico.
What about the Global Health Concentration at UIC made its greatest impact on you and how did it prepare you for a global practicum?
I did not start the Global Health Concentration until after completing the practicum. The Global Health Concentration has since helped me understand how foreigners and NGOs can be meaningfully involved in global health without undercutting local capabilities.
What was the most valuable thing you learned through your global professional experience?
It’s impossible to list just one or two things that I learned while working at INSP. While living abroad, even everyday occurrences are learning experiences (even a simple illness can teach you about the health system, for example). I also learned more about the Spanish language and Mexican culture, which are immensely valuable for my work locally. However, the most formative experience I had during the practicum was the two weeks I spent alone in Tapachula, Chiapas at a migrant shelter on the Guatemala-Mexico border. This experience forced me to be completely independent and immersed, and greatly deepened my understanding of the human rights issues facing migrants.
How did this experience prepare you for work in public health?
I plan to work in immigrant health and human rights, so my experience in Cuernavaca was very useful. I have a much deeper understanding of the Mexican culture, the violence and poverty that push people out of their countries of origin, and the ways that U.S. policies are implicated in migration. I have a new appreciation for the dedication and resilience of migrants, as well as a renewed calling to continue this work.
How did your perspectives or worldview change as a result of this experience?
I had spent several summers in Mexico before my practicum, but this experience gave me a new appreciation for the rich research being conducted in Latin America. I had a very United States-centric view of academia and research, and now realize that there is a lot of valuable research being done in other places. I had never worked in a formal 9-to-5 job while traveling before, so this experience was very different.
In what way did this experience enhance or change your career goals?
This practicum re-affirmed my commitment to work with the immigrants of Latino descent. However, before working at INSP, I wanted to work in obesity prevention and health promotion. After learning more about the human rights violations experienced by migrants, I have shifted my focus towards human rights and protection for migrants as they travel towards their destinations.
What advice would you give to current global health students?
Say “yes!” to any international experience that is offered to you!