MAR. 6, 2009 -- One day in the spring of 2008, Eliana Dotan found herself sitting across from the Ugandan Minister of Health, conducting an interview for her study abroad research project on reproductive health services. It was at that moment that she realized the importance of respecting an unfamiliar culture: "Being able to greet him using formal Ugandan greetings made a huge difference…[along with] knowing to dress appropriately. After I finished the interview, he said, 'Thank you for dressing like one of us, we really appreciate it'." Dotan's research abroad was strengthened, she said, by being able to truly immerse herself in working together with local organizations and people.
Dotan, a winner of a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for study abroad
, spent the spring of her junior year in Kampala, Uganda with SIT Uganda
in their development studies program. She is an Art History major with a double minor in Economics and Social Justice/Social Policy. Dotan explained that her decision to study in Uganda was mainly based on her desire to be somewhere completely different from anywhere she had ever been.
"I never thought I could meet people whom I had so little in common with…[it was] a really big shock," she said.
Dotan's time abroad was primarily focused around an independent field research project, which students are required to design and conduct with help from SIT faculty and staff. As a recipient of the Gilman scholarship, Dotan needed to give a presentation on her research upon returning to the U.S. In November, she traveled to Notre Dame University to deliver a presentation at the conference "Innovation in the Service of Human Dignity: A Human Development Conference." Her topic, "Family Planning for Poverty Reduction," included general research of micro and macroeconomic theory as well as a field research component in which Dotan traveled to reproductive health care clinics in rural villages in Uganda.
Dotan's research came in three phases. The first two phases were theoretical, looking at the microeconomic theory and the macroeconomic theory that supports the idea of collaborative planning as a tool for poverty reduction. The third phase assessed the state of service provision and advocacy in Uganda and the implications of those findings on the theory, micro and macro.
Dotan spent time at rural health clinics throughout Uganda. She visited both Reproductive Health Uganda, which is the oldest such service provider in Uganda, and Mary Stopes Uganda, a British-run family planning organization. She spent equal time at both of these clinics, at least three to four days a week, and learned a great deal about the state of health care in Uganda.
In doing so, she uncovered some of the challenges of "studying" development and actually being immersed within a culture. Dotan's research found that earlier, Western ideas about "family planning" caused important Ugandan social networks to be dissolved, and caused a rupture in cultural life. She argued persuasively that "family planning," however defined, needs to be a collaborative and culturally-sensitive process.
She commented: "In my opinion, it's extremely, extremely reckless to start a development movement without understanding the consequences of it. And the consequences are very grave. As a result, family planning is so important, but it's not working in Uganda because men are completely alienated from it as a topic, and because it's seen as something coercive when it doesn't have to be."
The SIT program in Kampala gave Dotan valuable cutural adaptation tools with which to conduct research and learn about life in general. Dotan explained that the best preparation given was teaching students about social norms and cultural "cues" in going out into the field and interviewing.
"I interacted with other students and people from the U.S. and elsewhere who were trying to volunteer or do research or something, but who didn't have that understanding. They were struggling. Just the smallest things matter, like knowing how to properly greet someone."
Dotan's experiences abroad have given her a clearer vision of what she hopes to achieve in the future. Through her research of health services and her experiences living in a place more different than anything she had ever known, Dotan grew in many ways. She plans to go to graduate school eventually, but would like to take at least a year off before going so that she can decide on the focus of her studies. Eventually she would like to be involved in research-related work.