Lessons from the field

Jacob Berlyn working with UW-Madison students and Project Mercy students to complete a NEFSE community health mapping activity.

From Ecuador to Ethiopia, Global Health Field Courses allow students to explore and learn more about communities around the world. Even though the experience takes them several thousand miles away, students learn how many of the issues faced abroad are also issues faced in their communities here at home.

Since 2011, 742 students have earned the Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health. Another 146 students have earned the Graduate/Professional/Capstone Certificate. The global health certificate is comparable to minors offered at other universities. These certificates introduce students to preventative, population-level, interdisciplinary approaches to health promotion around the world. As a part of the certificate’s requirements, all undergraduate and graduate students must complete a field experience.

We asked five global health students to reflect on their trips, giving advice for other students.


Duong and her UW field course group in La Calera, Ecuador.

Who: Stella Duong

Education: Duong is an undergraduate student studying Genetics with certificates in Global Health and Business.

Where: She traveled to Ecuador with the  “Microenterprise and Health in Ecuador” field course. The course partners with an indigenous Ecuadorian women’s group called Sumak Muyo, and students learn more about Sumak Muyo’s projects and about how this small business has the potential to empower women through economic freedom.

The Power of Communities: “This course was the last requirement for my global health certificate, so I have taken plenty of ‘public health’ classes; however, nothing in any textbook or newsletter could prepare me for the poverty and injustice that resonated throughout the communities we visited. Nothing prepared me for meeting Betsy, a soft-spoken woman, left to care for her son in a town that does not even have clean water. Nothing prepared me for meeting Juan, who is about to celebrate his first birthday, because his family finally had money to host a small gathering. Yet, in the midst of many forces of oppression, these communities have unmatched motivation and creativity. Furthermore, even in poverty, these communities are truly communities. All profits are shared among community members and the trust among community members is remarkable—doors are unlocked, everyone knows everyone, cooperation among all.”

Tip of Advice: “Take time to hear everyone’s story, you will not regret it.”



Berlyn, right, with Khediro, a Project Mercy student

Who: Jacob Berlyn

Education: Berlyn is a UW-Madison 2015 graduate who double majored in Biochemistry and Environmental Studies with a Certificate in Global Health.

Where: He traveled to Ethiopia with the “Biodiversity, Food Systems and Health in Ethiopia” field course. Throughout his trip he was able to meet with government officials and university professors in Addis Ababa and other cities as well as with community centers and not-for-profit organizations such as Project Mercy and Enga le Enga. Many of their interactions with Ethiopian partners were focused on the links between health, food systems and the environment and what policies and practices are taking place to improve the health of the country as a whole.

Local to Global Connection: “This was my first time outside of the U.S., and I really thought it would take time to adjust to a different culture. I was pleasantly surprised to find more similarities than differences among the places and people of Ethiopia. I only experienced a “culture shock” upon returning home to the U.S. after being able to view the world from a new perspective. An important part of any career, especially one in global health or service to others, involves viewing situations from a different perspective. This trip allowed me to view my life back in the U.S. from a different perspective, having been exposed to life in an different country.”

Tip of Advice: “There are few things more important than education. The opportunities that UW-Madison and the global health program can offer are nothing short of amazing. The opportunity to travel the world and learn from a different culture is afforded to so few people in this world so do not take it for granted.”


Lane with UW-Madison students in Ethiopia.

Who: Rissa Lane

Education: Lane is an undergraduate student studying Biology with a certificate in Global Health.

Where: She also traveled to Ethiopia with the “Biodiversity, Food Systems and Health in Ethiopia” field course.

Local to Global Connection: “I think my greatest understanding of the world is best relayed through the Lilla Watson quote, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I learned that global health work is not about throwing resources at people that have less than me so that I may go to sleep at night. Global health work is learning from other cultures and sharing my knowledge and understanding to create a better global community in which local, state, regional, and global values prioritize sustainability of ecosystems and resources, health and well-being of all people, and richness and diversity of culture.”

Tip of Advice: “Completely invest yourself— you may be exhausted in country or feel overworked during the semester leading up to departing from the states, but the people you will meet, conversations you will have and experiences sharing humanity with other field course students, facilitators and Ethiopian partners will be unlike any other in your undergraduate time. Don’t waste a second of it!”



DeVries with Rebecca and her mother Christine after planting sack gardens in Lweza.

Who: Lauren DeVries

Education: DeVries is an undergraduate studying Gender & Women’s Studies with certificates in Global Health and Education Policy. She graduated in May 2016 and has accepted a position with the Peace Corps to work as a Community Health Educator in Uganda.

Where: She traveled to Uganda with the “UW Agriculture, Health & Nutrition” field course. During her field course, she visited a farm, government institutions and different health center levels. The interactions in Uganda were focused around community building activities like gardening, school service and interacting with health care workers. Students also worked closely with the Village Health Project and the project’s work in Uganda.

Local to Global Connection: “Seeing some of the issues in Uganda really made me realize that the U.S. has many of the same problems. For example, The Village Health Project does a lot of work with water and sanitation in Uganda. Immediately, when I came back from our field course in Uganda, the Flint water crisis is all over the news. We had just been dealing with similar water problems in Uganda. In a sense it made the world seem so much smaller because a lot of the problems we have in regards to health are so similar. When you start to tie in history and governments that’s when these issues start to become more complex.”

Tip of Advice: “Take the time to know the people living in the communities you’re visiting. They know better than anyone the problems they’re facing are, and possibly their solutions.”


Ross in Uganda at a National Game Reserve

Who: Aleja Ross

Education: Ross is an undergraduate studying Accounting with a certificate in Global Health.

Where: She also traveled to Uganda with the “UW Agriculture, Health & Nutrition” field course.

Local to Global Connection: “One of the most important things I learned and I connect back to Wisconsin is the importance of utilizing what we have in our own backyards. While in Uganda I was so impressed by how resourceful and innovative a lot of the local farmers and technicians were, and if we had a similar mentality to those in Uganda we could probably create more sustainable and cost effective ways of farming, engineering, and so forth.”

Tip of Advice: “Always be open. Try as much as you can to be present and be willing to engage in a completely new culture.”


By Olivia Riedel/May 25, 2016