One thing that really resonated with me from Carrie’s lecture is when she said you’ll never be able to fully understand a region’s cultural and historical attitudes. It made me realize that even as a Michigan resident, I don’t know all of the cultural attitudes of all people in the state, and I may never. For example, I wouldn’t know the cultural attitudes of someone from the western Upper Peninsula, or a person from Big Rapids, because I haven’t had the same experiences that they have had. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try your best to learn about the culture in the region you are doing work in. Some steps you can take to increase your cultural sensitivity in the place you are working are learning various aspects of the culture, practicing essential phrases in the native language, and getting to know the people from the region by spending time with them.
Going hand in hand with cultural sensitivity is research ethics. Reciprocity is crucial to the global health research experience. You aren’t going to another part of the world solely to take whatever information or experience you want without contributing something to the community you’ve gone to. Giving back to the community should not only be done, it should be prioritized. This means reducing your burden and in other cases this means maximizing the benefits to the host community. You can reduce your burden by being as culturally sensitive as possible, so you don’t accidentally attack the culture or impose your culture onto others. When choosing your topic to research, make it one that will actually benefit the subjects in some way.
Should you take on the task of becoming as culturally sensitive as possible, it is highly probable you will still make mistakes, just as when Carrie told us of her experience in Durban. After conducting all her research, she and her colleagues came to the conclusion that high reported school connection is a protective factor against perpetrating violence, and suggested that there be more after-school programs. She failed to realize, however, that it became dark quickly after school, so these programs could never come to fruition. Carrie told us of her experience not to discourage us, but to help prepare us for the unexpected obstacles that may arise in global health research and to encourage us to learn from mistakes.
If you are interested in doing global health work, how have Carrie’s experiences shaped your views on working around the world? If you’re not interested in doing global health work, what knowledge can you use from the lecture in practice here in the States?