Global Health: Circumnavigating Ethics and Cultural Sensitivity

Global Health: Circumnavigating Ethics and Cultural Sensitivity

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?

22 thoughts on “Global Health: Circumnavigating Ethics and Cultural Sensitivity

  1. I agree that one must be fully aware of a culture’s customs, norms, and attitudes before taking part in that culture. I connected this lecture to my anthropology class, in which we must go out and submerse ourselves in different cultures, but be aware of ethnocentric biases. After observing numerous different customs, one may notice how easily it is to dismiss other cultures and norms as different than ours, rather than existing independently. I am glad all of us were introduced to the importance of understanding ethnocentrism. I may study abroad soon in Europe, and will keep this in mind. My question for fellow readers: have you noticed your own ethnocentrism?

  2. I agree with you. Even in the state of Michigan, people from different cities have their own experiences that are completely different from people of another city. This goes to show that we should be aware that everyone possesses their own, unique backgrounds. If these differences exist with people within the same state, imagine the vast differences that exist between individuals in different countries.

    Being culturally sensitive and maintaining proper ethics are major components of global health. If one desires to learn more about a particular community, it is important to remember that we are a guest and should not disturb their traditions or make them feel uncomfortable. If we desire to find solutions to certain problems in a society, we must be reminded of their environment and beliefs so that we do not make matters worse.

  3. Seth you make a very good point. There are so many different pieces that go into making a region’s culture that you will never know everything about any region even the region you grow up in. This is important to realize because you should not be ignorant about knowing everything and rather have an open mind and continue to listen even about things that you are almost an expert in.

    It is important to be culturally sensitive when going to a new region because using your culture in a new place may have a different meaning to the locals. I think that I can use the knowledge I gained from Carrie’s lecture here in the US by applying these practices to the different region of the US that I travel. The south and the Northwest have different culture and doing research before hand and being culturally sensitive I know realize is quite important when traveling.

  4. Carrie’s talk was very relevant to me as I hope to do work abroad one day. I have decided not to pursue a medical track, but instead wish to do work with improving access to clean water from a civil engineering perspective. She brought up many good points that I think a lot of people can ignore. I also like how Seth brought in research ethics, I think it is important to remember what we are doing all this research and work for, to give people a better quality of life. If we fail to do that, what is the point of going abroad?

  5. Seth,

    Your opinions and analysis on Carrie’s presentation are very well analyzed and enunciated and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Furthermore, to answer your question, as someone who is interested in global health, I believe that Carries presentation has shown that ethics and morality are big factors in global health research. Prioritizing the community in which we research is imperative to minimize our cultural insensitivity and appreciate the local customs and culture. While I am not sure what type of research I would like to conduct in the global setting, I do know it will have something to do with regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. As such, this field requires a high sense of ethics to it to maintain a sense of morality in the research team and to maintain the patients sense of confidentiality and trust. Carries experience all over China have also shown that no matter the preparation of plan, it can be difficult to maintain those ethics and reasonable sensitivity needed.

  6. After hearing Carrie’s stories, I began to think more about the purposes behind global health work. Since most people would probably say that they find helping people to be deeply rewarding, it makes sense that they choose to help people in ways that feel the most tangible to themselves, everyone enjoys seeing the fruit of their work. But really, everyone knows their own needs the best, and helping others should be more about the help that is needed than the desires of the helpers.

  7. Seth, you have provided a very thorough analysis with many relevant points. I would agree with you that we cannot know everything about a culture except the one in which we are most entrenched or involved. Certainly, Carrie’s presentation demonstrated to me the importance of taking steps out of one’s comfort zone to interact with other cultures. This requires respect, humility, and a willingness to learn and observe. Often, working overseas shows the extreme privilege of the American way of life. It is crucial to reflect on the problems that exist here and abroad, attempting to re-evaluate my own mindset on issues of health and education.

  8. Culture is a really tricky thing and Carrie’s lecture highlights that fact. I was interesting that she said you will never be able to fully understand culture. She seems realistic but accepting that you will never fully understand a culture doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand and take part of that culture. I agree with you that learning a language can help you understand that culture. Language is so intertwined history and it can tell you so much about the region’s culture. Being able to understand a person when they talk is also a great benefit. One of the goals of global health research is to help the region that you are researching. I agree that not imposing your culture onto others is a great way of respecting that region. I am interested in doing global health and I think that this lecture has reminded me to be more aware to the cultures of others. She said that you will never be able to fully understand a culture helped me understand that there is so much to learn.

    1. Culture is very abstract. There are so many different aspects of a culture that one can never fully understand a culture without having lived it one’s entire life. Totran, I completely agree. Just because we will never fully understand something does not necessarily mean we should not try. We will never completely understand many aspects of biology or physics, so why should we believe we can completely understand culture? I understand there is a difference between hard science and social sciences, but the fact remains the same. Carrie’s lecture did a great job discussion this subject. Though language is intertwined in history I do not know that language accurately portrays a culture. I speak English, but I could not understand the cultures of Ireland and Scottland without living the life of someone within that culture. It can give an over view if you speak a specific dialect. For example Spain Spanish and Mexican Spanish are different and when learning one or the other you can learn about one of the specific cultures. If global health is the career on wishes to pursue then an idea of their culture and cultural beliefs are extremely important to know. This discussion brings to mind one of our past lectures. Global health providers were putting on sexual health seminars in a rural region. They demonstrated condom using a banana. By doing this, the native people believed in order to prevent pregnancy you put a condom on a banana instead of themselves. Overall, different cultures must be at least vaguely understood for any kind of progress to be made or the help delievered may be in vain.

  9. Seth, this is so well written. I also am interested in studying abroad either through health care or through language, but since I experienced this myself, I know exactly how to be in the visitor’s shoes. I am from the Philippines and coming here in the United States was definitely a breath of fresh air, but I was very much ignorant of the culture, the atmosphere, the language, and more. I had to learn over time, and I made plenty of mistakes, but I also learned a lot from it and from observing and talking to people in general. It is so important to actually take in what you learned and apply it, and it will make you feel good and the people around you. It is very important to show respect as well as you do this because you don’t want your own culture to be disrespected either. I plan to continue expanding my knowledge in the future with my future travel plans to different countries and taking in what I learned from here and being openminded to try other ways of attending situations I have never encountered before while I have been living here in the U.S.

  10. I agree with all of your statements Seth. It is true that being a Michigan residence there are cultural differences in the Upper Peninsula, the East and West coast, other states within the midwest whether it is language or the way we approach a situation. For example, the ‘pop’ and ‘soda’ discrepancy. I am interested in doing global health work sometime within my four years in this university and onward. Her experiences made me realize how important it is to be culturally sensitive and aware in order to avoid offending someone. When she mentioned how she was providing different ideas for more kids to join the choir and them staying after school but they told her that after a certain time they have to make sure all the kids have gone home because the liquor shop nearby takes children it made me more aware of the cultural differences present and how aware I must be of that.

  11. As most people have been told at some point in their lives, “assumptions make an A** out of u and me”. I think culturally incompetency has a lot to do with the fact that people are often more comfortable making assumptions than asking questions. In today’s society, it is essential to recognize that each person and place has some type of culture that you are probably unaware of. That being said, I think the most important things she mentioned were consent and questions. Make sure that you are asking and ensuring that others know the scope and purpose of what you are doing and what it entails. Prior to her lecture, I had not put much thought into making sure that the burden you are putting on the community is as small as it can be. I used to just think that paying people for their services and time was enough to compensate for the strain you put on them. Now I understand the importance of making sure that your work actually gives back to the communities you are using. In my future, I do plan to do some type of Global Health work, and I hope that I can bring an open-minded attitude to the table.

  12. I really like how you said that ” 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”. I completely agree with this statement and everything else that you said in your blog post. People may go to another country and think that they are helping the natives but in reality, it might come off as them trying to impose their culture on the natives. The best way to prevent this mistake from happening is to really immerse yourself into the natives’ culture and try to understand it as much as possible. It’s only after you have an understanding about their culture that you can help them. I have always been interested in working around the world and hearing about Carrie’s experiences made me more aware of how important it is to be aware of the different cultures and practices. I realized how important it is to be aware of your own actions and words when you’re in another country because the smallest word or action can come off in a bad way to the natives.

  13. Carrie’s lecture made me realize that there will always be gaps between people, but it is our job to learn more to make these gaps smaller. I will use what Carrie said in her lecture to learn more about other cultures and become a better citizen.

  14. Seth, you bring about many excellent points from Carrie’s lecture. You mentioned the idea that one will never fully understand a region’s culture or history and I couldn’t agree more. The thing is even if you do end up knowing everything about the history and culture it is always changing. We are in a world that’s constantly evolving and we need to take this into consideration as we think about global health. Things like you said, getting to know people from different cultures and learning different phrases in different languages are really beneficial in becoming more culturally sensitive. However it’s pretty much inevitable that you will make a mistake and we just need to be open about them and learn from them.

  15. Thank you for the thoughtful comments. For any new readers, I would appreciate it if you would comment on the other blogs without as many comments to let them have a chance too. Thanks.

  16. I completely agree with you. I think it is very important to be concision of the regions cultural, economical, political, and historical attributes and also understand that you cannot possibly learn everything and that there is always room to grow and learn. I think when we are doing research abroad we have to be cultural sensitive and not compare to our cultural, look from their perspective rather than our own. It’s also important to understand that you won’t fully know everything or you may not fully comprehend some customs but having an open mind goes a long way.

  17. Seth, I love the examples you used to explain the cultural attitudes that you haven’t had exposure too. You gave examples of places that are in the same state that you live in. This shows that in the same region/state, there are cultural attitudes and differences even if they are slight, and the fact that same states can have differences shows how big of differences other countries can have in comparison to each other. I think it is very important to be aware of cultural differences and to even immerse yourself into the culture to learn and understand more. The three examples to increase understanding are perfect. I have experienced many different cultures and try to be as cultural sensitive as I can be but sometimes I do still make mistakes. It is good to learn from those mistakes, and be more knowledgeable for next time. I really want to study abroad and go to a place where the culture is completely different from the one culture I grew up in. For wherever I choose, I need to do my research, learn some of the language, and hopefully give back to that community to give a better quality of life.

  18. Seth,

    As someone who is planning to/considering to study abroad for Public Heath for CGIS, Carrie’s lecture was very enlightening. I share a similar mindset in that fact that I think my one agenda/idea would solve all issues. Magic. For instance, I used to divulge to my brother that key to fixing starving etc. within certain parts of Africa, “they just need to build libraries,” I told him. “If there are libraries, the people there can become more knowledgeable and self-sufficient. No more relying on charity/volunteerism from other countries.” Granted, this was more than a couple of years back, but it still shares the same sentiment. I, as an outsider, will never understand the problems/know the perspective of other communities. Even as someone who is born in a different country, I cannot claim that my experiences widely confirm the notions of my birth country nor do my experiences reflect the current state I reside. I understand I can never claim fluid understanding of a country/state/city. I believe that no one can—and it takes the entirety of the population’s perspectives to reach a decision to work on the welfare of the people. This is something that can be applied also to our current political climate.

    1. Furthermore, this is not to say that an outsider cannot share their perspective because it can sometimes take an outside perspective to progress as a society as a whole and to see something due to circumstances etc. that could not be seen before.

  19. Carrie’s lecture definitely made me more cognizant of the extent to which individuals need to deeper understand a population’s culture before arbitrarily making suggestions or trying to help.
    Without understanding the full situation, small minutiae, and culture of the population we’re interested in, it’s very easy for us to cause more harm than good. As Carrie recounted, while trying to help in Africa, she ended up causing more problems for her students when she asked them to stay at school for longer periods of time. From a perfectly objective standpoint, her suggestion seemed reasonable enough, but when it came around to actually applying it, there were a number of problems she was unable to see in advance due to her lack of knowledge with the population she was researching. Because of this, I’ve realized that in order to study a population, we must first understand the culture and people before any research can be done.

  20. I hope to practice some form of global health in the future. Though, I never thought about how the different cultural aspects could shape that decision. I knew it’d be different than working in America for me but I never considered how my presence will be different to those I’m working with. As Americans, we assume people really want our help mor than anything else and whatever we do is good enough. However, offering medical care isn’t worth much if you don’t respect the culture you are working with. Cultural sensitivity is possibly one of the most important things to have when doing global health. Listen gin to Carrie really showed me just how important it is.

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