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San Diego State University

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Health and Human Services students
take action to make a difference abroad

By Michael Klitzing

While on a Spring Break study abroad program that included visits to many of the dazzling sights of cosmopolitan London, kinesiology senior Tony Grizzle admits he wasn’t exactly thrilled when he looked at the itinerary and saw a visit to the North London Hospice.

“I went in thinking, ‘Man, this is going to be the most depressing day,’” recalls Grizzle, a participant in Health and Human Services 350, a class that sends cohorts of students for weeklong explorations of public health issues, challenges and systems in locations all across the globe, ranging from Switzerland to China.


Little did Grizzle know, it would be that experience that would stick with him the most – and inspire him and his classmates to take action. 


It all started with a story. 


As an administrator showed the group of SDSU students around the hospice, he shared an account of a patient who had died there. 


He explained how the patient expressed to hospice staff that she regretted never getting married.

How the hospice requested wedding donations on social media, inspiring local bakers, florists and dressmakers to help out.

How, because of the generosity of others, the woman realized her dream of getting married.

And how she died just two days later.

“It was definitely moving,” said athletic training senior Chris Berg, who was also on the tour.

During the visit, Grizzle noticed a donation tree, where donors could get an honorary leaf for contributions of 250 Pounds. As his group was preparing to depart, he decided to speak up and take up a collection to get a leaf. Berg took off his Chelsea FC hat – a souvenir he’d purchased at a soccer match earlier in the trip – and passed it around.

The response from the group of cash-conscious college students was overwhelming.

“It was getting towards the end of the trip so it was a choice of, ‘Am I going to go out tonight or am I going to go to the equivalent of 7-Eleven to get a premade sandwich?’” Berg said, laughing. “Pretty much everybody gave what they had on them, a lot of 1- and 2-Pound coins. We raised 235 Pounds so we fell just short.”

Staff at North London Hospice was so touched by the gesture that they gave SDSU the leaf anyway.

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‘An awesome thing to witness’

Kinesiology senior Tyson Arden is still buzzing over his HHS 350 program to Costa Rica. What was the highlight?

“The orphanage,” he says without hesitation.

He pauses and thinks for a moment.

“And there were beautiful waterfalls.”

It’s tough to top tropical waterfalls, but the group’s visit to Hogar de Pan – an orphanage for abused and abandoned children in the town of Cartago – was just as eye-opening. That’s because the students got to meet Melba, Hogar de Pan’s matriarch, and the 46 children she’s taken in to her family’s 10-bedroom home.

“These kids are so well-behaved and so loving that you are able to move past all the sadness and grief and the hard times that they went through,” Arden said. “You start to see what this place is doing for them and how they’re growing into these wonderful people the way they’re supposed to. Just helping them move forward with life is what this place is all about.”

During the visit, the students learned that Hogar de Pan receives no government funding and very little outside financial support. So collectively, they decided to do something about it. On the bus ride back, they hatched an idea to set up a crowdfunding page for Melba on gofundme.com. The page was set up by speech, language and hearing sciences senior Breanna Norton upon their return to the U.S.

In the first day after it was activated, the SDSU group raised $200 by promoting the cause on social media. You can view their page here.

“The fact that these kids are in a much better situation and can move forward with their lives, that’s an awesome thing to witness,” Arden said. “I was stoked to be a part of that.”

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Building community


 

The stories of the HHS 350 London and Costa Rica students are music to Professor Kristen Emory’s ears – especially because she views building a sense of empathy with communities in need as one of the most important goals of the program. In fact Emory, who led the London program, admits to tearing up at her students’ gesture to the North London Hospice.

“Those moments where you want to cry a little for good reasons? Those are my favorite,” Emory said. “I think that’s generally what we’re supposed to be about in public health – really coming together to find ways to make things better, either by working within the system or getting around the system. These students did it themselves, which is so cool.”

Emory said she could see a visible shift in her students’ outlook as the program went along. Study abroad is required for all students in the SDSU College of Health and Human Services, meaning not all participants are planning to go into public health. Many are studying kinesiology, nutrition or other specialized fields.

At the beginning of the program, Emory said she could usually pick out the public health students based on their level of interest and engagement. But by the end, the lines start to blur.

“It definitely changed the way I looked at my career,” Arden said. “I never thought about getting experience anywhere other than the United States as far as being a physical therapist. Now I’m looking into programs to travel abroad and be in a setting where I’m not only learning a new language, but working with disadvantaged people.”

Added Grizzle: “If you’re in Health and Human Services, you want to help people out no matter your major. It’s just about trying to find that point where your passion and the job meets. That’s what we saw in every single lecture that we went to in London. And I saw it most at the hospice.”

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