Erin O'Connor

International Experience Country:
Cohort Year:
Home Institution:

University of Pittsburgh | Oakland

Heinz Programming Area:
Children, Youth, and Families
Study Abroad Country: Cohort Year:  Home Institution:  Programming Area: 
International Experience Summary:

Venturing around 9,000 miles on her first plane ride, Erin landed in Madagascar where she studied for 7 weeks learning about the social and political dimensions of health, the importance of traditional medicine through utilizing Madagascar’s biodiversity, and Malagasy. She and the 12 other eager students ventured to traditional healers, sacred sites and hospitals to interview and discuss the roles of both traditional and allopathic medicine in Madagascar, along with the potential of moving towards a more integrated system. Having only ever experienced allopathic medicine in the United States, Erin challenged her biases and thoughts, expanding her mind and perspective to include the importance, appreciation and necessity of traditional medicine. Living in both urban and rural homestays for the duration of her trip allowed for her to better fully experience life in Madagascar, encompassing delicious cuisine, Malagasy dancing, and the abundant biodiversity. Experiencing the cuisine and health practices in Madagascar made Erin curious in examining the role that nutrition has in Madagascar, comparing it to its role in the States; this research was bolstered through primary literary searches and interviews with healers and clinicians at the site visits. Wandering through the rainforests, weaving through cars in the bustling capital, feeding lemurs, and hiking mountains barefoot showed Erin the incredible diversity that is Madagascar. Thanks to the friends, families, educators, and excursions from the trip, Erin departed Madagascar with a newfound perspective on health and life, as well as a strong desire to return to Madagascar, the country that influenced her dreams for the future.

Community Engagement Experience Summary:

CEE Title: (Un)Conscoiusly (Un)comfortable

While studying abroad in our host countries, we all recognized subjects that were tabooed or culturally silenced, so Unconsciously Uncomfortable served to unveil some of these taboo topics.  Such topics exist everywhere, so at this event we aimed to establish a place for initiating dialogue for some of these topics that persist in the U.S. Learning about how to engage in these topics is something that we deem as essential for moving forward as a society, which was the basis for this event. The event had the goal of first transforming our campus culture to then hopefully evoke a greater change beyond Pitt. As our guests entered, they were greeted with a survey on which they were instructed to circle 3 of 10 topics that we previously thought of as being tabooed in the States. We asked them to select those that they were least comfortable discussing. To begin the establishment of this conversation, we explained what exactly a taboo is and how they exist in many societies. Then, the five of us thought back to our host countries to anecdotally describe some of our experiences with our taboo topics. Sex, religion, sexuality, race and politics were some of the topics that we shared stories about from our host countries of Madagascar, France, Tanzania, Japan, and South Africa, respectively. Following our global experiences, we moved the discussion back to the United States as that is where we could more directly advocate for change in conversation. Returning to the surveys, we selected the 3 most selected topics and broke out into small groups over pizza and cookies to discuss them, with a few pre-planned questions for each topic. For our guests, race, sexuality and mental health were the 3 least comfortable topics. At the end of our discussions, we came back together as a group to reflect and decompress.