International Studies & Programs

Time in Malawi reinforces how fortunate we are to live in the USA

One patient in Malawi who stood out to me, was a woman with a broken ankle. Because there were no splints available, the only treatment available to her was to keep her ankle propped up between two bricks until a splint arrived.

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Published: Monday, 02 Mar 2020 Author: Piper Brase

Group of students posing with local MalawiansStudying abroad in Malawi! As soon as I was accepted into the program I started planning for this exciting opportunity halfway around the world. The week before I left, text messages were flying fast and furious between a friend and I as we compared shopping lists and luggage requirements. My biggest concerns were whether I had packed enough mosquito repellent and were my shoes comfortable enough. Eventually the packing had to stop and the journey began! After over 24 hours of travel, I finally arrived at the Lilongwe airport, where I met the other students who would be my classmates for the next four weeks. These strangers rapidly became my new friends as we bonded over shared experiences such as giant grasshoppers in the bus, exotic meals and late nights trying to conduct research without an internet connection. 

No two days in Malawi were quite the same. We spent the first week exploring all the different levels of the healthcare system. These ranged from rural clinics where babies were weighed in outdoor scales, to a private modern hospital in Blantyre that looked like it could have come straight out of any large cosmopolitan city. This part of the study abroad experience impacted me the most, by reminding me how fortunate I am to have insurance coverage and easy access to quality care. We learned that although most healthcare is free for Malawians, they may have to walk over ten miles to the nearest clinic which may lack even the most basic Piper and her classmate in white lab coats holding beakers in Malwaiequipment and prescription drugs. After seeing the overcrowded and warm waiting rooms it is now impossible for me to complain about wait times at my home clinic. One patient in Malawi who stood out to me, was a woman with a broken ankle. Because there were no splints available, the only treatment available to her was to keep her ankle propped up between two bricks until a splint arrived.

For the remaining three weeks, we split our time between two labs and lectures. My group spent the first week working in a lab at the Malawi College of Medicine assisting with research to find a more efficient test for malaria. We spent the second week working in all the different sections of the clinical lab at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. In the afternoons we attended lectures about different African diseases from both MSU and Malawian faculty. Malawian students joined us for labs and lectures, and these students became our friends as the program progressed, and this helped us experience a more authentic Malawi. One of my favorite memories from the program was spending the day with Shakira, one of the Malawian students, as she took us to a traditional restaurant where we learned the proper way to eat nsima (a staple corn flour dish) with our hands, and how locals spend their time in Blantyre. 

On the weekends, we always had an adventure, and those experiences were to the extremes; the beauty of seeing the Milky Way from a safari camp and seeing the waterfall early in the morning high up a mountain at Mulanje surpassed any expectations I could have had. It seems like a cliché, but truly nothing can compare to the vastness of the African sky in Malawi. In contrast, I also experienced some eye opening human experiences while here. After seeing children walk down mountain trails with firewood balanced on their heads, and realizing that the blood being returned to me at the blood bank was because a patient died during emergency surgery, have been extremely humbling experiences. This study abroad experience has made me realize how fortunate I am to live in the US, especially in terms of quality and access to healthcare. I will never have to slide down a mountain carrying trees to help support my family, I have the opportunity to move away and gain an education for myself. Malawi has made me so grateful for this opportunity to see this beautiful country and experience a new level of healthcare.

Name: Piper Brase
Status: Junior
Major: Microbiology
Hometown: Fairbanks, Alaska
Program: Malawi: Infectious Diseases of Africa