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Finding yourself by getting lost: Global Health

As a global health student, Amanda Pinnock was required to participate in an approved experiential or practical component — either study abroad, or an alternate program for those who cannot do so. With a 1-year-old daughter at home, Amanda’s choice was not clear-cut.

“But I figured, if I want to do something in global health, then experiencing another country and culture should be part of my study,” she explains.

After browsing her study abroad options, Amanda ultimately settled on Fiji for three reasons. First, it was the shortest program, an important consideration when the trip means time away from your toddler. Second, it was the cheapest, which is equally essential when you’re a single parent. And third, it aligned best with her academic and personal interests in culture, the environment and public health works. With her decision made, Amanda thought the hardest part of the experience would be feeling alienated as one of the oldest students there.

“To my surprise, I was right in the middle of the group,” she says. “It made it so easy to connect, and many of the students were online, as well, so we also shared that in common.”

What followed was what Amanda describes as an action-packed eight days.

“We had lectures from a lead nurse and general practitioner from Sigatoka Hospital,” she says. “We went to a village and learned the history of Fijian culture. We traveled to different islands, went on a hike, climbed waterfalls. It was a lot of fun.”

The most life-changing part of the trip was her time spent in a small village, where she experienced firsthand the welcoming nature of the local people.

“Fijians are probably the happiest and humblest people in the world,” says Amanda. “They welcomed us with open arms and made sure we were fed and had the accommodations we needed. It wasn’t until I talked further with the group leader and tour guide that I realized they were giving us more than what they have for themselves on a daily basis.”

The village was fortunate to have running water — an everyday indulgence for most Americans, but a luxury in many other places around the world, including Fiji.

“I went into the trip thinking running water is a right and everyone has access to it,” Amanda says. “Finding out that was the farthest from the truth made me feel quite naïve.”

She was amazed to discover, however, that those without access to what seems like such a basic human necessity still believed they had everything, and wanted for nothing.

“They live off the earth,” she explains, “and they all help one another. If one house fishes, they share their fish. If another house farms, they share their cassava. It’s amazing to see that support and helped me appreciate what people do for me at home. I used to define wealth as a monetary value — someone who was rich. It wasn’t until I went to Fiji that I realized wealth is about quality of life. They may not have had nearly as much money as an average American, but they are wealthy in their lives, and I think Americans can learn a lot from that. It really put into perspective what’s most important: family, loved ones and the environment.”

In particular, Amanda came away from the trip with an even bigger drive to learn about and become a voice for addressing climate change issues.

“Here I was, still learning about these things, and I’m a global health major,” she says. “It made me realize I can be a voice for those who can’t speak as loudly as I can.”

Her goal after graduation is to work for the World Food Program, concentrating on delivering and getting access to clean water in areas that don’t have it. She also hopes to one day start a nonprofit that can further spread the word about clean water.

“Another thing I learned from the trip was that I can do literally anything I put my mind to,” she says. “I’m a single mother who works 45 hours a week. I never dreamed that I would be snorkeling in another country or climbing a waterfall. A big help came from ASU because I received a scholarship as well as a grant. Then I received donations from my family, who were big supports. Whatever it takes to get to do something, do it.”

That mentality also factored into her decision to return to school.

“I used to go to the Tempe campus,” she explains. “Then life happened and I ended up moving to Louisiana and had my daughter. I was working two jobs and had someone else watching her and decided it was just not how I wanted to live the rest of our lives. I wanted to get back into school, so I called my old advisor and she talked about ASU Online and how it was the perfect opportunity.”

She adds, “There’s a huge misconception — a lot of people think it’s about learning on your own time,” she says. “You do a lot of that, and there is more wiggle room, but it’s challenging and it’s fast-paced. You have to be disciplined. But they make it so easy — both ASU and the professors — by being accessible and providing support. If I can do it, anybody can."

Learn more about ASU Online’s Bachelor of Arts in Global Health program.

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