As a Global Health minor, I studied abroad with the Center for the Study of Human Health’s (CSHH) Health in Paris last summer along with about 20 other students. This experience was a welcomed, productive vacation after a long spring semester. Yet, I had no idea how much my lifestyle would improve by this summer program. Getting into this program was surprising; I applied when I was extremely sick and received the good news shortly after getting out of the hospital. I guess something in the universe wanted me to get a grip on my health.
Paris is an ideal place for studying health topics. World Health Organization (WHO) data suggests that the French are healthier than Americans and do a better job of supporting health as a right for its citizens. I was able to see that firsthand through excursions, classes, and simply living the French lifestyle. In the classes I took with Dr. Michelle Lampl, the director of CSHH, and Dr. Robert Gaynes, I focused on the nature of this health gap by defining health and determining why the health of the French is different from ours.
For five weeks, I embraced the opportunity to experience a different cultural viewpoint on health. Dr. Lampl’s “Health and Well-Being” class introduced the strong influence of cultural beliefs, values, and traditions on behavior, treatment, and policy. In Dr. Gayne’s “History of Medicine” course, I learned of the vast contributions from the Ancient Greek physicians to modern medicine. In addition to those courses, I revisited my French language skills in our “French Discourses of Health” course to help get around in Paris. Our days were long with multiple in-class presentations and hour-long lunch breaks near Hotel Saint Paul. We also went on cultural excursions with our professors to complement our classroom studies.
For example, while learning about the germ theory, we went to the Pasteur Institute and the Palais Decouvertre for exhibits on Louis Pasteur, the first to suggest that germs were the cause of illness. The Pasteur Institute is similar to our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There, we saw the living quarters of Monsieur Pasteur and the lab technology of his time that allowed him to solve agricultural and industrial problems from infectious diseases. We were extremely lucky to be in Paris for the Palais Decouvertre exhibit, which was only there for the summer. Through films, games, and animated models, we saw hands-on the science behind germ theory and exactly how Louis Pasteur defeated rabies. I do not have a traditional science background, so this particular set of trips enhanced my understanding of the germ theory as a scientific subject and exposed me to the institutionalization of health.
The location of this program itself was a lesson for a healthier lifestyle. While I have been to Paris before, I was caught up in touristy activities that detracted from immersing myself in this city, which is all about mobility. Every day I walked a mile to the metro for school and half a mile from the stop to my classroom. In fact, I relied on public transportation and walking to get anywhere in the city. We had to log our steps before coming to Paris and during Paris; I easily walked 20,000+ steps or over 5 miles a day doing very simple things like buying groceries, getting lunch, and going home. After my feet got used to the increased steps, I embraced the mobile lifestyle because I felt physically and mentally better.
I also developed a newfound appreciation for fresh and locally sourced products. The phrase, “The French live to eat” reflects the way food is uniquely understood in France. In our class conversations about “eating right,” I discovered that eating right entails quality food. Well prepared and sourced food adds to the feel of a meal being a highly valued event. Monoprix, a grocery store chain, were usually stocked with non-GMO fruits and vegetables and labeled the source of their produce. As eating out was an expensive luxury, I became very familiar with stopping in the local market after school to buy groceries to make my dinner. Now, I love to cook and do so more often at Emory, which helps me manage my meal plan dollars and be intentional about my meals.
Having left my shared apartment and Paris Metro card behind, I am now inspired to pursue other untraditional ways to learn about health issues. I am a part of the News Team because it is a way for me to build on my Paris studies and share health information with others. I am also looking for more cross-cultural opportunities while I complete my minor. Lastly, I have pursued health-related service projects by getting involved in Atlanta’s huge food insecurity problem. After discovering my love for applicable and hands-on learning environments for health subjects, I am excited to continue with my studies to grow into a global health advocate.