The summer before senior year of college is always the time when students scurry to find meaningful internships and jobs that will help to define their post-undergraduate path. In my final summer before graduating, I was searching for a new experience that would allow me to develop useful skills for a career in research, while also providing me with a new experience. Since coming to Penn, I always wanted to go abroad; I always had an interest in exploring new cultures, and gaining a new perspective on the world that would help me grow both in my academics and as a person. Upon finding Penn’s Global Research Internship Program (GRIP), I knew that this would be a perfect opportunity to find an internship related to public health and spend the summer in another country!
There were many positions offered by Penn Abroad to choose from; fields such as business and marketing to computer science were represented in the program. I knew that I was interested in working in a field related to healthcare, and immediately upon going through the list of possible internships, the Bioethics Intern position at the Pan American Health Organization/ World Health Organization (WHO) jumped out to me. Though I only had little experience in the field of bioethics, it was something that I had been interested in and wanted to know more about. I was extremely excited when I found out that I had been accepted to participate in the program during the summer of 2018! Prior to departure, the global interns met several times with the Penn Abroad staff to talk about our trips and all of the logistics. However, I had never been out of the country on my own, so I was very anxious about my upcoming trip. This fear was eased during the GRIP dinner, where I had the opportunity to meet with other students who were travelling for the first time and talk to people who had done the program in previous summers. Being able to discuss my fears with others made me feel like I was not alone and made me even more ready to take on this experience! The Penn Abroad staff assured me that I had a supportive network at Penn, even while I was abroad.
While some of the interns would be travelling in groups of three to five students, other students would be travelling alone. For my internship, I would spend two weeks at the organization’s headquarters with two other interns, and then eight weeks in Port of Spain, Trinidad by myself. During my time in DC, I learned about the World Health Organization and their multiple efforts to facilitate bioethics in countries throughout Latin America. I also had the opportunity to work along two other Penn students, who were travelling to other Latin American countries. Once my time in DC ended, I was ready to head to the country I would be spending the next two months in. My nervousness for my first day was gone as soon as I met my coworkers for the first time. They were all locals of the island, and were eager to show me their beautiful country and accept me into their family.
During the day, I had two major projects that I would work on: planning a webinar to discuss the importance of implementing bioethics in human subject research and working on a research paper based on a topic of my choosing. I chose to study the ethical aspects of access to healthcare for Venezuelan immigrants entering Trinidad and Tobago. Through the use of my coworkers and other available resources, I was able to construct a literature review on the topic that I had the opportunity to present to the entire office at the end of my internship. My supervisor and I also worked towards getting the literature review that I had written published in a local ethics journal! I was also able to visit the ministry of health, the various regional health authorities and meet influential public health officials in the country! After work and on the weekends, I spent my time trying new foods, going to the beach with my coworkers or being taken on tours by my host family.
Through my work, I gained a greater understanding of healthcare in foreign countries and the principles of bioethics. I was also able to gain a great amount of experience learning the process of writing, reviewing and publishing my own work. Having the chance to work directly with the WHO representative for Trinidad and Tobago taught me leadership and project management skills. I left this opportunity sure that I wanted to go into medical ethics upon graduation. This experience forced me to step out of my comfort zone, which is something that I am extremely thankful for. But it also gave me best friends that I still keep in touch with to this day. Hopefully one day I will have the opportunity to go back, because spending days on the beach with my friends never got old.