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Six questions with a global health student on exchange in Colombia

Kaleigh Beauvais on the Rosario campus

Global Health student Kaleigh Beauvais is spending her winter term on exchange at Universidad del Rosario in Colombia.


March 2, 2020

McMaster student Kaleigh Beauvais is currently in Bogota, Colombia, with four of her peers from the MSc Global Health program. The students are participating in a three-month exchange at the Universidad del Rosario as part of the program's winter term, which prioritizes international experience and experiential learning.

1. What did you hope to gain from this experience?

It was important to me to participate in an academic international experience. As the program’s focus is global health, I wanted to make sure I gained the perspective of another health system in the world. I’m very fond of Latin America, as I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many parts of South and Central America, so the opportunity for an exchange with Rosario felt like it was meant to be! Living abroad shifts your perspective from familiar ways of learning and living to having alternative expectations where you gain a completely different experience.

2. What are you working on during your exchange?

Right now, we have a group of 9 international students working within an underserved community in Bogota. We’ve paired off into teams and are each working on a project with different groups of people. My partner and I plan to work with Venezuelan women and immigrant families in the community who don’t currently access healthcare. Our goal is to communicate to these families that there are health services available to them. Ultimately, we hope to increase the number of immigrant/displaced families visiting health care centers, which will in turn increase the health of the families and the community. Other groups are working with pregnant women, schools and health care centres
During the next few months, I’ll be working on a scholarly paper on the topic of human trafficking in Latin America, and how the Venezuelan country collapse has impacted this issue.

3. What are the differences/similarities in terms of the global health picture in Colombia vs Canada?

We actually share many similarities with Colombia in terms of our health systems. Most importantly, citizens in both countries have access to primary health care. In fact, Colombia’s healthcare system is ranked higher than Canada’s by the World Health Organization. Major health issues in Colombia are more typically non-communicable diseases and teen/young pregnancies. There are also major inequalities impacted by area demographics, resources and equity between citizens vary greatly in urban versus rural areas. In underserved communities, the ratio of citizens to health care practitioners is very poor.

4. What can we learn from Colombia's approach to global health?

Latin America’s history has had major influence in shaping their social and global social medicine outlook. Colonialism has played a major part in the development of the health systems here. Colombia and Latin America in general have been working to counter the unique dominance of the global north through many community-based initiatives. I believe where we could learn from the Colombian system is to continue to incorporate more community-based initiatives into our healthcare systems, though I know many already exist. Colombia’s primary care also includes dental consultations and care, which I think should be incorporated in other countries with primary healthcare.

5. What’s been your most memorable exchange experience so far?

I love Latin American culture as a whole. It’s never boring, there’s always reggaeton playing, and the people are very friendly. I don’t know if I can pinpoint the most memorable time, as it’s been one big amazing adventure so far. Perhaps one of the best aspects is being able to experience Colombia with a fantastic group of peers, as we’re are all very similar and enjoy many of the same activities. Having the ability to learn Spanish has also been a wonderful experience. 

6. Why did you choose to study global health? Why McMaster?

Since finishing my undergrad, I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel – and it helped me realize we live in a bubble in North America. I began to see the inequities of the world and knew I wanted to change my professional direction towards the world of global health. I’m one of the few students in the program without an academic background in health and science. I have an honours undergraduate degree in Communications from Carleton University and a graduate certificate in International Business Management from Algonquin College. Although I enjoyed both my previous academic terms, and feel they gave me an excellent foundation for continued learning, I wanted to make sure I had the background to work with an international NGO, and moving into the world of global health seemed like a natural next step to where my true interests lie. I chose McMaster because the program is award-winning and highly reviewed by many academics I know who took the program previously.