Pre-health student learns about global health issues virtually in South Africa
October 5, 2021

Over the summer of 2021, I was able to participate in a virtual internship in Cape Town, South Africa with VA Corps, where I collaborated with public health leaders and nonprofit organizations in the field of HIV/AIDs relief and education.

Although this wasn’t my original plan for the summer of 2021 (I would have preferred an in-person study abroad experience), I believe the circumstances that brought upon this experience were unchangeable and I found the program, nonetheless, to be extremely valuable to both my personal and academic aspirations.

Through this internship, I was able to develop my collaboration, networking, and investigation skills during group-based learning projects with global organizations like UNAids. I also partnered with the Donald White Ndwanya Memorial Fund nonprofit, where I helped organize drives for food, clothes, and stationery for primary schools and children’s centers in Cape Town. Many of the children who attended these schools were orphans and vulnerable children, and were directly impacted by the AIDs epidemic in South Africa.

However, I believe my most meaningful project was a personal one, in which I spearheaded an educational campaign focused on possible nutritional and dietary interventions for HIV and COVID positive individuals in Southern and Eastern Africa, through the guidance of my mentor: Dr. Takiyah White-Ndwanya. The campaign involved flyers for passersby, social media posts, and articles for those who had more advanced knowledge of HIV/AIDs.

These experiences were invaluable for my future career plans and helped expand my worldview of global health issues not necessarily nearby. As a pre-health student, it helped reinforce my passion for accessible healthcare and my desire to continue collaborating with nonprofits and community centers.

I was also able to obtain fantastic guidance and mentorship from VA Corps and was encouraged to explore different options in public health, such as a possible career in epidemiology. This experience opened my eyes to the wider systems of healthcare that affect large groups of people, and was so different from the more focused assessments found in my daily coursework as a human nutrition and MCB student. I was also exposed to the vibrant culture of South Africa through webinars taught by VA Corps employees, which encouraged me to maybe visit Cape Town someday in the future when COVID plays less of a role in travel to South Africa.


Nicole Park, a senior, is studying human nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition in ACES.