by Bethanie Paddock
At age 20 I flew to Accra, Ghana with the hopes of completing my undergraduate internship requirements. My young, naive self had no idea what was really in store for me.
I volunteered at a rural hospital and learned how to do blood tests for Malaria, Yellow Fever, and HIV. As I dreamed of becoming an American Medical Doctor, this was an exciting learning opportunity. Still, I was unaware of how much I was truly learning.
When a young man tested positive for HIV, I selfishly asked if he would tell his family. He shared that in his world he would be disowned and abandoned for such a diagnosis. After explaining the medical implications of this condition, the young man left my office and I never expected to see him again. A few days later the same young man cried in my arms as he shared his gratitude for the knowledge I shared with him. After sharing the news with his family, this man felt empowered to educate others, and felt a sense of strength for breaking the norms and expectations set within his family.
This interaction taught me more than my combined 6 years of higher education. This man showed me what real strength and bravery is. He showed me how to take reframe a negative experience and use knowledge to help others. Of course, he displayed the cultural norms and expectations that exist in his world, but most importantly, he taught me a lot about myself.
Before this internship and this specific interaction, I was not aware of the privilege that I possess as an educated, American woman. I was not aware of the degree of hardship experienced in other areas of the world. This culture allowed me to re-think my interests and the motives behind them. Rather than continuing to become a medical doctor for my own success, I now study in a doctoral program designed to promote awareness of multicultural awareness, and each day I attempt to place my own needs aside. This experience truly allowed me to grow as a student and as a human being.