by Paola Ozuna
November 21, 2012
Walking down the streets of Thailand was no easy task for Digna Peña, who had to learn how to handle all the attention that her big Dominican ‘fro got her. She decided to travel to Thailand for her study abroad initiative in 2012 for her spring semester, wanting to learn more about the healthcare system in the country. Peña is a Public Health major on the Social Science track with a minor in Psychology. She’s also pursuing a certificate in Culture, Health in Science.
When I asked Digna why she chose to live in Thailand for her study abroad, she said that other than studying the healthcare system in the country, she also wanted to experience another culture. Remembering her parents’ experience about immigrating to the United States without knowing what to expect, she wanted to live and experience what they had and create her own memories.
Digna wants to work with communities on the preventative aspect of healthcare. In the future, she hopes to work with community health organizations on education and prevention at the local level and maybe even work on international development to help people and communities across the world build infrastructures for healthier lifestyles. This dream is what inspired her to go to Thailand, where she studied the country’s health services. Her group worked with village health workers, regional hospitals and even made a trip to Vietnam to compare their healthcare system to that of Thailand’s. They surveyed the people of both countries, collected data and determined possible healthcare problems. As a result, they created initiatives around those issues in order to improve the health systems of these communities.
Digna relished her experience in Thailand, saying that what she loved the most was working with the country’s natives. She saw everything from crammed hospital rooms to seeing people make a living scavenging trash. She said that “despite their humble living conditions, everyone was always happy and smiling. They had a very positive outlook on life”.
All of these experiences, from working with people, living with a Thai host family and even eating bugs that “tasted like potato chips” impacted Digna and her perspective on life and her future plans. She came back to the U.S. with dreams of doing community organizing. She wants to go into communities and work directly with the people to bring the improvements and changes they need to live better and healthier lives. “You cannot be a hero in a community and just leave”, she said. Her hope is to work closely with people and help build a better community for everyone. She loves seeing people happy and satisfied with the strong bond that they forged with their communities.
She has applied to become a Fulbright Scholar and is waiting to hear from them in the following months.
I loved interviewing Digna for she is not only a wonderful human being, but, as a friend, I have been the lucky one to see her become such an amazing woman. She will be graduating in the Spring of 2013 and I have no doubts that all of these experiences are just the beginning of a bright future for the girl with the big ‘fro and an even bigger heart.