Benjamin Cohn, 2014-2015, Fulbright-mtvU Fellow to Ghana, interviewing rap artist Reggie Rockstone in Accra
The 10 months I spent in Ghana for my Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship were the most supportive and constructive of my life. Sure, I faced new challenges every day, even insurmountable ones occasionally, but between my home communities, the Fulbright Program, and the new relationships I made in Ghana, I have never been more prepared to take risks.
Prior to applying, I had always considered Fulbright to be for “other people” until, at a networking meeting, I was told to consider it by the Executive Director of the Fulbright Association, an independent U.S. alumni organization. Upon further investigation, I realized that Fulbright’s goals aligned with my own more than I ever expected. Traveling has played a large part in my development; being exposed to different experiences, worldviews, and perspectives has 100 percent changed me for the better. Senator Fulbright believed that to be true for individuals, and even more so for nations.
Claire Manneh, 2012-2013, Oman (in green) interviewing clinicians at Royal Hospital in Muscat on their experiences using the electronic medical record system
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
Although I haven’t extensively trekked the globe like Ibn Battuta, the Medieval Berber traveler and scholar, nor can I retell stories like he did, I was indeed left speechless during my Fulbright U.S. Student grant to the Sultanate of Oman. I hadn’t come to realize how Fulbright was going to change my life until I was sitting on a one-way flight from San Francisco to Muscat.
Before that plane ride to Muscat, I was consulting with a team to transform a national healthcare system’s electronic health record (EHR) from a legacy to an updated system. The process was painful and lengthy, but the system’s executives were committed to transforming their practice. No different than the United States, Oman’s road to transforming health care delivery is happening at a rapid speed and I planned my Fulbright research to study their EHRs. After surveying and observing over 300 clinicians and patients in Oman, I found that their processes were not unfamiliar. Interoperability does not discriminate – Oman suffers from the same challenges we experience here in the United States. It was common for my study participants who had not visited the U.S. to think that Americans had easy access to health care, which patient records were transferable, and that clinicians can do sophisticated searches on a specific population within a database. The participants took comfort in knowing that a country they look up to in many ways, the U.S., was in the same boat.
Mike Stanton, 2005-2006, Senegal (left), playing the Tama drum at a traditional town music celebration in Dakar with members of the Diouck family
I decided to apply for a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant as an At-Large candidate (not enrolled at the time of application) because after I received my bachelor’s degree, I was interested in possibly attending graduate school in psychology and was not certain which type of degree suited my needs best. Working with a professor I had known since my undergraduate study abroad experience in Senegal, I was able to find my Fulbright affiliation and mentor, Dr. Myayang Niang – a professor, NGO director, medical doctor, and scientist.
During my Fulbright year in Senegal, I found that volunteering and engaging in community work were as important to my professional development as my psychological research. I worked with volunteers to build a cyber-café for medical students at Dakar University, mentored homeless children at a shelter, provided care to villagers in a remote health clinic, and taught American History and English classes to high school students at U.S. Department of State-sponsored events in Dakar.
For my Fulbright research, I used World Health Organization questionnaires to examine how stress may be associated with psychological/physical distress and how it can vary depending upon rural and urban settings in Senegal. Once back in the United States, this research ended up providing me with the impetus to apply to Ph.D. programs focusing on multicultural psychology and medicine. Currently, I am in my last year of a clinical psychology and behavioral medicine Ph.D. program at Duke University, and am a behavioral medicine intern within the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.