When I first started studying at Lancaster, I was excited and a little nervous – I moved to a new place with new people and was studying in one of the UK’s top universities – now The Times and The Sunday Times University of the Year. The contents of my course and the gold-mine of societies and extra-curricular activities were all exciting prospects. However, unlike many students now starting at Lancaster, I ended up in this very windy, very rainy part of the country on somewhat of a whim after deciding that a gap year after A-levels wouldn’t be quite right for me. When embarking on my course I had abandoned any ideas about travelling through a country, trying new foods, and learning about another culture. I couldn’t really see how I could fund or fit in a suitable placement abroad. One experience I did not anticipate was spending almost two months in Ghana – a country full of culture, fantastic food, and most importantly plenty to learn from.
In my second year, my tutor told me about a new placement for Biological Science students. Before too long it was time to apply and I was accepted onto the programme – Lancaster University and Boston University Accra Summer School. It was a pilot programme spo
nsored by Santander packed with tonnes of activities. It consisted of modules on Global Health and Infectious Diseases led by lecturers from the US, UK and Ghana. Also crucial was an internship placement and a short laboratory project…. and yes – that was all in less than 2 months!
Since its been more than a year since I returned and having graduated, I thought it’s high time I share a little bit about what the experience was like so here goes!
After arriving in Ghana and receiving a warm welcome from the staff and students at the Lancaster University Ghana campus we jumped straight into the work. We started with our Global Health module. Each week we focused on a different social determinant of health. Being very discussion based, it was the complete opposite of most of my modules. Like many a biologist, I was hesitant as to whether I would enjoy what felt more like a social science. However, having a broad range of students from the UK as well as from across the pond in the US and Ghana, made these discussions especially engaging. Over the coming weeks, to further inform us, we had talks from the head of economics at the WHO in Ghana and coordinators at Ghana Health Service to name a few. We took a tour of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, the third largest in Africa. We also visited Kasoa polyclinic and saw first-hand the challenges that come with an influx of refugees. Not only were we learning about the impact of geography and culture o
n health, but often it linked to what we were doing at our respective internships.
I interned at Vision for Alternative Development, a WHO recognised organization, that focuses on promoting road safety and tobacco awareness. Along with another student and VALD staff, I visited different schools talking to youngsters about road safety and providing short sessions about tobacco awareness. Being part of this type of public health campaign showed me how initiatives work all the way from government offices to the classroom and streets. Talking to a room full of students was challenging and full of surprises – nobody told me singing would be part of the delivery!
Finally, Lancaster’s very own Dr Rod Dillon and Dr Jackie Parry led the lectures focussed on Malaria prevention and scientific communication, a core aspect of ensuring public health. Part of this module included completing a lab project and report with regards to water purity – a sort of mini-dissertation. We also visited Vestagaard labs to see the work that goes on behind the scenes of a global company working towards healthcare solutions – this included a demonstration of how they conduct their experiments, something that often happens behind closed doors.
Of course, such a packed programme had its ups and downs, all of which woul
d be impossible to fit onto just a few pages. But in a nutshell, this placement gave a true insight into life in Ghana off the well beaten tourist track whilst making fond memories with those around me. In a very modest way we contributed but more importantly learned from organisations at the forefront of life changing and life-saving work. We bettered our skills in the lab and walked away with a better understanding of how the material we learn in lecture theatres fits into the larger puzzle of public health around the world.
My experience goes to show that you never know what could be around the corner. Never did I think that such fantastic and unique opportunity that took me 4000 miles across the globe would arise from this very windy, very rainy part of the country. I can bet that there are plenty of opportunities waiting for you at Lancaster too!