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Students "Learn Globally" by Teaching Women in India

In winter 2010,Dr. Leslie Jaffe, College Physician and Director of Health Services, took a group of five students to India to teach Indian and Tibetan women about a culturally sensitive topic: women's health. The visit was part of his Global Engagement Seminar taught in fall 2010, entitled Global Learning: Women's Health in India.

"The goals were to understand two other cultures and health issues for women within those cultures. Specifically, we focused on Tibetan women in exile in India and Indian women. A related goal was to provide culturally sensitive health information to the Tibetan women"

–Leslie Jaffe

The students did not travel to India unprepared as to how to teach these issues in a delicate way. Anna Valentine '11 shared, "Because my seminar was studying women's health in a culture that is very different from my own, having the opportunity to travel and immerse myself in both Indian and Tibetan culture was a valuable part of the experience. We spent a lot of time in the classroom before we left, learning about how to approach sensitive topics in a more shy and modest culture, but actually, teaching about reproductive health issues at the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS) was where we were really able to learn firsthand how young Tibetan women themselves talked about and received our lectures and Q&A sessions regarding taboo subjects. Their receptiveness and willingness to engage with us and ask questions far surpassed our expectations; this is something we could have only come to know by immersing ourselves in their close-knit community."

Through Dr. Jaffe's and some students' comments on traveling to India and following up on what they had been learning in the classroom, it seems as if they learned a lot about the benefits of community-based learning.

"The classroom discussions, texts, and movies in no way provided the complete picture and nuance of what actually exists. For example, before the trip we learned that Tibetan girls are culturally shy regarding reproductive health issues. But once at the Tibetan university, we saw they were eager to engage in active learning and were quite open. We read that maternal health care for Indian women is poor, but once there we actually were able to experience the issues firsthand, in a way not reflected in our readings. For example, we observed an Indian doctor providing care to 60 women in a day, with minimal examination or use of laboratory testing. We observed that the doctor encourages women to deliver in her hospital, but needs to have them leave two hours post-partum. We learned that infertility is a significant reason that women seek health care, yet that is not mentioned in the literature"

–Leslie Jaffe

"As part of the Global Engagement Seminar I was able to travel to India and teach women's health to Tibetan refugees at the Central University of Tibetan Studies. Throughout fall 2010, we had spent our class time learning about the Indian/Tibetan culture and women's health in India. I learned a great amount of information during the course; however, when I was in India I was submerged in the culture, I was experiencing it firsthand. I definitely learned a lot more being surrounded by the culture I had learned about so intently during the semester. I had expectations for the workshops we had organized for the girls at the University. Being able to teach them such a taboo topic and have them feel so grateful was definitely a heartwarming experience. Women's health was a topic that the girls definitely wanted to learn about, yet they had no other resources to go to for such information; being able to teach them was very rewarding. Community-based learning has impacted me more than just sitting in a classroom and learning about a topic in class. Being submerged in the culture you are learning about is much more powerful and it gave me the ability to truly learn firsthand about the culture. I am able to understand more clearly and efficiently. The culture is experienced through different eyes, a more caring eye, being able to notice and learn everything the books cannot teach you. You are able to learn more through community-based learning, but you are also able to grow as a person. It definitely impacts your life completely. I know my trip to India has changed my life in so many ways"

–Karen Morfin '12

Some of the students not only described the impact this experience had on the women in India, but also how it affected them and the way they think about learning. Onawa Labelle AC explained, "I feel I should first and foremost say that I cannot possibly encompass all that I learned while abroad in a single statement. It's a challenge to even try to put it into words, truthfully. In the context of community collaboration, the seminar gave the five of us the opportunity to work together and meet a common goal: to empower female students at the Central University for Tibetan Studies (CUTS) through women's health education. Rather than just sitting through lectures, reading textbooks and scholarly articles on the topic, we created lesson plans and actually taught the material we had researched all semester. Gathering information with the intent to disseminate it to students rather than just write a paper on the topic is quite different. The topics we covered are imprinted in my mind more than if I had just read about them or heard about them in a lecture. The additional positive aspect of transmitting what we had learned and actually being helpful to others was a source of deep motivation for all of us. With it came a sense of accomplishment and pride that is not present after simply writing a paper or creating a PowerPoint for class."

"There's something to be said for hands-on learning, especially when it addresses a certain need or problem in a community. Using readings and lectures to provide background information is important, but learning through doing while helping others really serves to engage all students involved, and leaves a greater impact on what the students take away from the course. Seeing firsthand what most students only skim over in a book or journal article leaves a lasting impression through the deeper emotional connection students can make with the community members involved in the class or project"

–Anna Valentine '11

The educational benefits of community-based learning cannot easily be replicated in a typical classroom situation. Through these reports of their trip to India to teach women about women's health, it is clear that the professor and the students gained valuable educational and emotional experiences that will leave them fulfilled in innumerable ways.