Posted on behalf of Liz Timoszyk
Although our week in Texas is over, the lessons learned will remain with me far longer than that. I entered the region with only the surface level knowledge of the area—high poverty rates, low education attainment, high chronic disease, etc. I felt prepared to be face to face with these issues over the course of our short week. However, upon arrival to the Rio Grande Valley I soon learned that knowing the health facts does not mean you understand them. It wasn’t until I was immersed in the valley, interacting with members of the community and hearing about the problems from their perspectives did I begin to really comprehend the gravity of many of these issues. This was a very important lesson to me as a soon-to-be graduate from the School of Public Health—when it comes to understanding the health of a community, there is no better way to understand than to put yourself in the community’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective. Talk to community members, and listen carefully. Observe your surroundings, but be careful of biases. It can be hard, but it is a necessary skill in this field. For example, we saw areas of extreme poverty in Brownsville, where some homes were merely shacks huddled together. While this is a very real situation, there are many other areas of the valley that do not look like this. I realized I had to keep this in mind, and not let myself be led into false assumptions about this community. I also learned to listen purposefully and intently to how the community members describe themselves. Through conversations, I learned about very specific challenges to the area, but I also heard and saw strengths that I would never have discovered on my own. For example, the people of the Rio Grande Valley value family extremely highly. Without spending time in this community, I wouldn’t have understood how important family ties are to the culture and how this can impact health. These experiences highlighted the importance of carrying these lessons on as I prepare to begin my career in public health, and to continue to cultivate and hone these critical and invaluable skills.