Seeing the world from a different perspective

Julie Lewis-Lapin was one of eight students who went to Cameroon for Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College’s first international immersion program. She shares with us what she’s learned.

“It was an amazing chance to see the world from a different perspective. I was surprised at how easy it was to communicate with the students, and how much we have in common. We had a great time exchanging stories about our daily lives.

The university did not have air conditioning in any of the public rooms, so I ended up teaching outside under a tree. It was beautiful and there was always a pleasant breeze, but I had to improvise some paperweights to keep my papers from blowing away. And my students wore bright white uniforms, so they had to put down a layer of papers every morning to prevent their clothes from picking up all of the dust and pollen on the benches. Despite the challenges, I have to say it was one of the best parts of the experience to be teaching outside, under a tree in Africa. Not many people can say that!

The students were incredibly friendly. The first time we met them, they immediately linked arms with us to show us to the main classroom. At first, both groups were very concerned about asking personal questions and offending each other, but as the week went on we got more comfortable sharing personal stories and asking about families and opinions. There were a few things that needed clarification along the way, like the fact that they have a slang language in Cameroon called “Pidgin.” It is a simplified mixture of French, English and tribal languages. All of the Americans thought they said “pigeon” like the bird, as in “we aren’t allow to speak pigeon at school.” It was very funny when we finally figured out what each other were saying.

This experience made me truly appreciate how cultural differences can affect the choices people make about their health care. I was so surprised to hear that HIV positive mothers often ask a relative to breastfeed their infant for them to avoid transmitting HIV to the child. The whole family is involved in raising the infant and that includes making sure they get the best possible nutrition, which means breast milk instead of formula whenever possible.

The most rewarding piece of this journey was passing on knowledge that I have learned at Barnes-Jewish College. We are so lucky to have the best of everything – simulation labs, instructors, classrooms, clinical sites, textbooks. Being able to pass that on amplified all of the hard work I did to acquire the knowledge. I think that is also something I now appreciate about nursing – so many lives can be affected by just the few days we took to learn and share this information. Now the students at University of Buea can amplify it further by teaching their peers and their patients. Knowledge is an unlimited resource as long as we choose to share it.

The trip was full of favorite moments for me. One day during lunch the Buea students went off campus to get lunch and when they came back they brought me a sample of what they were having. It was this wonderful piece of grilled beef covered in very hot spices. I never knew beef could taste that good, and it cost about 15 cents. So their whole meal was about 75 cents and it was better than anything else I had the entire trip.

Another thing that comes to mind is the visit to a local hospital run by volunteers from Spain. I was so surprised to see the juxtaposition of modern equipment with open fire pits that were used to cook patient meals. Also, their pharmacy consisted of just a few shelves in an office that had a scattered selection of bottles. At the end of the trip, we all gathered up the spare medications that we had brought just in case and gave them to the hospital. They were so grateful to have anything and everything because they had to import everything they used and it was hard to get enough medications to treat all of the patients.

I also loved the black sand beach, the hike up the side of the volcano, all of the wonderful colors and fabrics people wore, the meals shared with friends new and old, writing about the experience so I can look back and remember it, and getting to share my enthusiasm for nursing with others.”

- Julie Lewis-Lapin, Accelerated BSN ’11
Labor and delivery staff nurse, Barnes-Jewish Hospital

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