Exploring Public Health in Argentina

Buenos Aires skyline

Having participated in research since high school, I was thrilled to be able to use my qualitative research skills abroad.

I participated in the Public Health in Urban Environments program through the School for International Training. My experience was completely immersive: I lived in a homestay with a host mom who did not speak any English, and all of my classes and research were conducted in Spanish.

Kelsey Sklar in the Andes Mountains of ArgentinaBy the end of the semester I had written a 40-page research report completely in Spanish and spoke with fluency.

Having been at Cornell for a few years, I felt the need to step outside of the campus bubble. I was drawn to the research focus of the Public Health in Urban Environments program—the program connects students with local professionals in their field of interest, who supervise their independent study project.

Having participated in research since high school, I was thrilled to be able to use my qualitative research skills abroad. As a pre-med student, I chose this program because it was an amazing way to learn more about social determinants of health and health systems, and to shadow doctors.

My independent study allowed me to contribute to ongoing research on women’s health issues. I interviewed health professionals in Buenos Aires to gather their opinions about the use of Misoprostol, a drug that can induce abortion within a legally restricted context. Local access to the drug in Argentina is limited by law, cost, social stigma around abortion and availability. Unsafe abortions are currently the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.

The health professionals I interviewed spoke highly of the use of this drug to induce an abortion, as it is a safe and effective method. A woman can consume the drug in a pill form in the comfort of her home. The interviewees I spoke with identified several next steps, including the need to develop a protocol for pain management associated with the medication, to regulate the cost of the drug and to expand its legality in Argentina.

No country is perfect. It was important for me not only to learn about the United States from the perspective of Argentina, but also to live in Argentina and see first-hand the successes and challenges of that country.

In my free time in Argentina, you could find me sipping on yerba maté, eating facturas, and taking yoga classes—taught in Spanish! Friendship in Argentina is a serious concept, and the bonds between people are strong because they spend hours talking together over mate.

Lake in Mendoza, Argentina

The value of spending time with friends is one of the important things I learned during my time abroad. Since returning to Cornell, I’m making more of an effort to enjoy other people’s company. Even though many of my friends in Ithaca can’t handle the bitter taste of maté, I still feel like I’m hanging out with them significantly more this semester.

Although I was somewhat apprehensive about going to Argentina, in hindsight I realize that my experience there was incredible. Learning to speak another language has opened up a world of opportunity for me.

Now I’m planning to spend time after Cornell working in health disparities research with immigrant populations. I am hoping that my knowledge of Spanish and my broader understanding of the intricacies of Latin culture will be useful in my future career.

Going Abroad
Human Ecology
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