To say that preparing for this trip began this week would be shading the truth. Preparation began about a year ago, when I decided on the Global Health track. Knowing I would have only one Fall semester at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, I took 7 classes and attended every NYC Fall event I could.
1. Start early
My initial attempt to secure a practicum began as a distraction from doing classwork in November. I should have been taking notes on a guest speaker’s presentation, but instead I drafted an email about my practicum. I got a response within hours, and after a couple weeks of excited emailing back and forth, I drafted a scope of work for my potential supervisor, translated it into Spanish, and sent it off expecting my practicum would be a done deal. Instead, everything came to a halt. No responses to two, three, four emails. In January, I reached out to another organization and had a similar experience. We even spoke on the phone, and scheduled another call that never came.
2. Decide if you want to DIY
By the middle of Spring semester, many of my classmates had a practicum. Those that went with university-sponsored organizations or returned to previous employers had an easier time negotiating the specifics of their day-to-day. But the rest of us, the stubborn (or determined, depending your perspective) do-it-yourselfers were reaching the mid-semester scramble when finding a practicum overtakes coursework on the list of priorities. I spent hours researching and sending out emails to sexual and reproductive health organizations.
3. Ask for help
In May, feeling utterly dejected, I emailed Anne Paxton, my Global Health adviser saying I may have to drop out of Global Health. She graciously met with me that day, listened to my blithering, flailing uncertainty and connected me to Maria Lahuerta, an MPH Global graduate. Maria responded the same day, saying she didn’t have any leads. Soon, I was emailing everyone who had any connection to international careers – parents of my childhood friends, my advisor’s former students, friend’s parent’s friends. Aside from encouragement and sympathy for my plight, I received no response.
4. Find useful distractions
The Spring semester came and went, with my coterie and cohort finding practicums and quiet desperation setting in for me. My family, professors, friends asked where I was going, what I was doing, when I would know. Tickets were booked, farewell parties held, scope of work documents signed. After a couple weeks, I asked my family to stop asking. My inbox filled with polite reminders about practicum paperwork due dates. I spent days in the SIPA library, rewording and sending emails into the dark internet void.
5. Don’t stop believing.
On May 22nd, Maria Lahuerta connected me with Fernanda Abella, who provided a list of potential locations and connections. I went down the list, emailing everyone. On May 29th, while waiting to play tennis with my sister, I got a response from Cristina Villarreal – Director of Fundación Oriéntame . After an avalanche of emails, Skype calls and 12 revisions of my scope of work, I had secured a practicum. I’ll be completing a formative evaluation assessing the perceived barriers and facilitators to contraceptive initiation and continuation post-abortion. Using focus groups, questionnaires, observation and key interviews, I aim to help Oriéntame improve their services. On June 29th, I booked a ticket to Bogota, Colombia, and for the past month I have been reviewing the literature, drafting instruments, and submitting the study for IRB approval. Tomorrow, I depart. Yayayayayayayay!