As a Vira Heinz Scholarship recipient, Katelyn had the incredible opportunity to spend nine weeks in Costa Rica this summer. She traveled to the Central American country as part of a health-care focused program through ISA, or International Studies Abroad. Through her studies, Katelyn was able to practice Spanish with a special focus in medical terminology, and learn about the Costa Rican health care system, as well as some of the prevalent tropical diseases that pervade the country. Katelyn especially enjoyed the opportunity to analyze some of the strengths and weaknesses of Costa Rica’s universal health care system, and compare it to what she has experienced in the US. For the latter half of her program, Katelyn volunteered in a nursing home and spent most of her time there playing games and socializing with the seniors, though she was also lucky to be able to shadow some of the occupational therapists at the home. One of Katelyn’s favorite parts of the entire experience was her homestay; she became very close with her host family and really felt immersed in Costa Rican culture during her time with them.
Outside of the classroom, Katelyn learned a lot about the country and about herself through a number of excursions around the country. She visited volcanoes, performed a rectal exam on a pregnant cow, ate food that was grown and prepared directly on a sustainable farm, toured the beautiful cathedral in Cartago that millions across Costa Rica pilgrimage to every year, went ziplining through the rainforest, bungee jumped off the highest drop in Central America (470ft), walked on the ocean floor,learned how to surf (well, she tried), saw monkeys and sloths and leopards and lizards and crocodiles, wrestled her belongings away from a persistent raccoon, and took over 700 dogs for a walk one morning at one of the world’s largest no-kill dog shelters. To say Katelyn was lucky to have had this amazing experience abroad would be an egregious understatement; she is so grateful to the Vira Heinz Endowments for allowing her the opportunity, to ISA for organizing such an impactful program, and to her host family and all the countless people shemet in Costa Rica who showed her the true meaning of the country’s motto: pura vida!
“Breaking Invisible Barriers," an interactive event led by the women of the 2017 Pitt-Oakland Cohort of the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership, sought to inform the community about different facets of society that make it difficult for marginalized groups of people to succeed. Each of the five women involved traveled to five very different countries during the summer of 2017, including Costa Rica, Iceland, South Korea, Tanzania, and Germany. In Costa Rica, Katelyn Axman noticed the derogatory way some Nicaraguan immigrants were treated – seen as “stealing Costa Rican jobs” and contributing to poverty. She explored how similar this perspective was to the way some Americans view Mexican immigrants. Similarly, Ra’Van Williams noted the lack of integration of Syrian refugees into German society. During her time in Tanzania, Eden Hailu experienced first-hand the lack of access to education for many of the girls and women there due to their domestic responsibilities. Courtney noticed the oppressive beauty standards prevalent in South Korea, and the damaging impact this and pressure for plastic surgery has on a young woman’s sense of self-worth. Finally, Moira Larkin noticed the pervasive lack of accessibility for disabled persons when she was traveling in Iceland. Through engaging presentations, activities and games, these five women brought to light these “invisible barriers” that individuals face in different cultures. They then made connections to the U.S. and Pitt community, emphasizing that these barriers are experienced here, too: by immigrants and international students, women, and disabled persons on Pitt’s campus. The goal of “Breaking Invisible Barriers” was to shed light on these issues and point out community resources that provide support to these marginalize groups. The first step to a solution is recognizing that a problem exists.