Simran is studying Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She joined the VACorps Program in July 2019 and participated in a public health internship at an HIV/AIDS Foundation.

“If I had to summarize my experience from start to finish in one word, that word is serendipitous. I found VACorps during an ambiguous Google search and as soon as I began the process, everyone I talked to was open and flexible to talk to me and help me have the experience that I envisioned for myself. I had a lot of last-minute scheduling conflicts and everyone was so accommodating of all of them. To be able to have an opportunity like this, in a place as beautiful and colorful as Cape Town, is a dream, not to mention a whole crew of individuals dedicated to making my experience astounding. And when I got to Cape Town, happy coincidences and surprises never failed to proceed my adventures. The people I met at the District 6 museum and during “Sunday Chill” are the people whose spirits I hope to carry with me for as long as I live, it was almost like we found each other at the right place at the right time. Not to mention the people I am privileged to have met at my internship site. During my time, I was able to speak to community members of Masiphumelele about taboo topics such as sex and sexuality. I learned how to better cultivate difficult conversations with people who are different than me and hold different beliefs than myself. And through this, I grew. I grew in how I see the intersection of culture and healthcare, how I see the intersection of happiness and love, how I see the intersection of work and community. I could not have asked for a better internship placement; it made my time here worth it.

That said, there were ups and downs to my experience, as is inevitable to most everything. However, even through the downs, I learned more about myself and what I need. This was my first time traveling alone and when I needed it, help and support were just an email or a text away. This not only comforted me but my family at home.

Through this internship, I was able to bounce around and get insight into the research process, the community development process and the sociological implications of that, and even more logistical things like the finances and the behind-the-scenes work it takes to run a successful non-profit public health organization. I ultimately spent the most time with the community team and learned an immeasurable amount about the sociology of Masiphumelele and how to reach out to people to improve healthcare equity in a marginalized population. From my perspective, even though this isn’t directly related to neuroscience or medicine, I learned the importance of making space for community members to share their stories and learn the why behind the what. Macroscopically, it seems as if healthcare professionals today often ignore marginalized populations but experiences like this, if nothing else, aid in emphasizing the importance of listening and acknowledging that everyone’s experience is different.”

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Vongai T – Illinois, USA (2019)

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