Alexis Whitaker

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

University of Pittsburgh | Oakland

Heinz Programming Area:
Study Abroad Country: Cohort Year:  Home Institution:  Programming Area: 
International Experience Summary:

For her first time abroad, Alexis Whitaker decided to travel to Tanzania, a country located in East Africa, right below Kenya. Alexis spent a total of five weeks abroad where she visited several cities including Dar Es Salaam, Bagamoyo, and, finally, Iringa. Alexis was able to visit several historical sites in Bagamoyo, including a site where she learned about Chief Mkwawa, a powerful leader in Tanzania who fought off the Germans from including Tanzania in slavery in addition to several others who fought as well. She also managed to visit the beach and speak to locals about Swahili, Swahili culture, and learn about their perspectives about their culture as well as American culture. After Bagamoyo, Alexis traveled over ten hours to Iringa, where she studied Swahili, Health in East Africa, and East African culture at a local health college named Public Health College Institute (PHCI). She stayed in a hostel there where she overcame the challenge of washing clothes in a bucket, gaining the courage to speak Swahili with the local students, and asking questions to learn more about the medical system in Tanzania. She learned several Swahili proverbs that inspired her and changed her life. She overcame fears as she hiked Ganglionga, a colossal mountain in Iringa, despite her fear of heights, and made lifelong friendships with the students of PHCI. Alexis hopes to visit Tanzania again, but to visit Zanzibar and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: (Un)Consciously (Un)Comfortable

Our CEE was titled (Un)Consciously (Un)Comfortable in order to highlight the topic of taboos from around the world. This title was created in order to catch the viewer’s attention as well as to convey our argument: what is out of sight isn’t always out of mind, and the consequences for this are real. Participants were asked to complete a survey in which they were to select the top 3 topics that made them most uncomfortable to discuss. This was then collected and tallied up by the VIH Fellows as the participants chatted amongst themselves over pizza and various snacks. This portion of the event was to destress the students and work as an ice breaker so that they would feel more comfortable with each other. Then, after allowing the final participants join the event, the VIH Fellows presented their previously prepared pieces about their international experiences. This was followed by their experiences with taboos, or lack of taboos, in their respective countries that they visited. Once finished, the results of the tallied surveys were announced and the top three topics were the following: race, sex/sexuality, and mental health. Since these topics were the most uncomfortable for the participants to discuss, prepared questions for each of them were to be discussed for the event. The participants were broken into three groups with two VIH Fellows in each in order to facilitate conversation; the questions for the topic were displayed and given to each group. After some time (but not too much!), they were asked to switch groups and a new topic’s questions were displayed and discussed. Once all three of the topics were discussed, the event was closed with a debrief and a conclusion. Each participant was thanked for their excellent participation and encouraged to reduce the stigma by continuing the talk about taboos in their every-day life.