MSU President's Column for Traill County Tribune

December 17, 2016 

'International Perspectives in Health' course includes two-week experience in Belize


Efforts are underway to recruit students to participate in Mayville State’s new “International Perspectives in Health” course. Offered for the first time beginning in January, this course will broaden student perception and understanding of health beliefs and practices with emphasis on social determinants of health, cultural competency, environmental influence, health beliefs and health seeking behaviors, social justice, professional role comparison, and self-reflection. Further, this course includes a two-week in-country immersion designed to expand the students’ understanding of the impact of cultural differences on health with comparison of differences between the populations within the United States and Belize.

Students from all majors are encouraged to participate in this course and enrollment of students from other colleges or universities, as well as those who may not be seeking a degree, is welcomed. We are hopeful to recruit students for this experience from a wide variety of majors including education, biology, health, physical education, and recreation (HPER), nursing, business, and any other majors of interest. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the course, student service learning experiences will be focused on the students’ program of study to include health-related topics of interest for their chosen major. Across the upcoming spring semester, preparation and planning for a May 2017 study abroad experience will occur and include development of culture and community awareness, exploration of health perspectives, and preparation for international travel. In addition, students will establish behaviors supportive of interdisciplinary collaboration which will continue throughout and beyond the study abroad experience.

The in-country immersion experience will be based out of Punta Gorda, which is a small town in the southern part of the Toledo District in Belize. The official language of this country is English. However, other dialects of Creole, Spanish, Garifuna, and Mayan are also spoken. All in-country experiences will be coordinated and fully supported by a legal non-profit organization registered in the Belize Government Registry. This organization serves in collaboration with partner schools to offer academically enriching, immersive, and authentic service learning experiences. Students will have the pleasure of staying with host families in the community throughout their time in Belize and will learn the importance of family in their way of life.

Within this course, students will learn first-hand how cultural diversity and traditions influence health and wellness. Also, students will learn how to integrate best practices for health promotion within the cultural norms and economic realities of a very different environment. Specifically, students will prepare and deliver educational offerings, including use of culturally appropriate handouts, focused on key areas of need identified in partnership with the coordinating organization. Students will present these educational offerings in a variety of settings including at schools, local health centers, community centers, and health fairs, and in homes across the villages of the Toledo District. During these experiences, students will be challenged to think outside the box as they will be faced with limited resources and multiple barriers such as absence of running water and electricity, limited or no access to basic supplies and equipment, and significant economic constraints.

While in-country students will also actively participate in various community service activities that will allow them to put their energy toward a cause that will benefit the communities long after they are gone. Experiences that focus on promotion of healthy lifestyles, environmental control to prevent and control health disparities, building using nature’s resources, establishment of effective ways to live off the land and sustain local agriculture are examples of possible community service experiences. In addition, students will have the opportunity to participate in various culture and adventure experiences that will provide enrichment, relaxation, and entertainment.

Because this course is funded entirely by student contributions, scholarships and donations of supportive resources and materials from community partners are welcomed. Specifically, donations of health promotion supplies and education materials would greatly enhance student service activities, as well as provide tremendous benefit to the Belizean people who are challenged by limited access to health care supplies and education materials, as well as financial constraints. If you, or someone you know, may be interested in providing scholarships or donations for this experience, please contact Tami Such using the contact information below.

We look forward to sharing this educational opportunity with students at Mayville State University, and we are hopeful that an optimal number of students will enroll so that the class may be offered. This will truly prove to be a life changing student experience, both personally and professionally. It will have a profound and positive impact on the futures of those who choose to participate in the experience. For more information about this course contact Tami Such, Director and Associate Professor of Nursing, by email at or by phone at (701)788-4716.