Due to the constraints of the lingering pandemic, study abroad and other valuable international learning opportunities have been limited. Thanks to a collaboration between West Virginia University and Amizade, the West Virginia Virtual Service Learning to Brazil Program allowed students to learn about the healthcare system directly from clinicians in medicine, physical therapy and dentistry in an online environment.
WVU has partnered with Amizade, a nonprofit that organizes safe, sustainable and collaborative global service and learning experiences, for over two decades. The organization’s service programs have enabled students to travel to countries including Bolivia, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and many more.
“It is important for students to leave the bubbles of their own towns and campuses,” Beth Nardella, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Medicine Department of Human Performance, said. “It takes leaving your comfort zone to realize how you can be of better service to your local community. When travel isn’t an option, though, we still have great opportunities for cross-cultural service and learning.”
As an interprofessional experience, 14 students from the exercise physiology, nursing and health policy programs at Health Sciences were able to share aspects of their fields while learning about the collaborative nature of the healthcare system in Brazil. This program specifically provided students with a valuable experiential learning component to their education through discussions with providers from various fields of medical and clinical practice. Their discussions were followed with reflection sessions where students shared their own stories. Additionally, several sessions addressed the social and cultural beliefs and customs of the Amazon region.
“During our time together, we discussed topics regarding mental health care, indigenous populations of Brazil, the effects of climate change in regard to health, the arts as a form of advocacy, and what it is like to work in the public and private sectors of healthcare in Brazil,” Rachel Minter, a junior from Beckley, West Virginia, studying exercise physiology, said. “Even though we were not able to meet in person, I was still able to communicate and listen effectively to the various speakers and get to know one another better.”
Lauren Collins, a junior from Vienna, Virginia, studying exercise physiology, remarked that the course conveyed valuable, in-depth information by people with direct experience.
“It’s one thing to hear stories from the news and other outlets to gain information, but it’s another to hear it from people who have lived through it and seen it. Now I have a greater understanding and respect for Brazilian culture and the people that can be applied to others around the world.”
Virtual instruction in the course lasted for two weeks and was followed by an on-site service experience, which students fulfilled through the Get Moving! Day of Play event hero in Morgantown on July 16.
Nardella expects the partnership to continue growing and providing unique opportunities for students.
“Amizade had to make some radical changes to survive the pandemic, and these are going to allow for more flexible options for students, including internship options in Bolivia and Brazil for exercise physiology students.”