April 26, 2016
Interviewed by Meredith Willis '16 and Aniko Haber ‘16
Bright Osajie ’16 is currently a senior in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Sciences on the combined track. During his time at UMass he has had the opportunity to study abroad in Thailand and has also been very involved on campus. Aniko Haber and Meredith Willis, both ’16, recently completed their second semesters of senior year as Public Health majors and Public Health Peer Advisors.
We recently spoke with Bright Osajie, a senior Public Health major set to graduate this May, about his experiences studying abroad in Thailand. During our conversation, we also found out that Bright is a very busy, active student and is extremely involved on campus. We are very excited to share our conversation with Bright and his experiences.
Coming into college, Bright was intrigued by what he believed was public health’s ability to mix the “hard” sciences with the social sciences more than other majors and fields are able to do. The Public Health program at UMass Amherst has helped Bright realize that he has an equal love for both fields, which he hopes to be able to incorporate into his future career path.
Bright recalled for us his experiences studying abroad in Thailand. To start, he first went through the International Programs Office (IPO) and then chose a program called the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), which has a focus on community public health. During his time abroad, Bright says that his greatest experience was interacting with local people that he met in passing on his way to class or in the city. He loved these interactions because he got to learn about the local culture and get a different view of life that he had not known before. He said that being in a different part of the world and learning what life is like there was something he will always remember.
Bright’s program was unique in that it was split into two parts. The first half of the program was class-based, where he learned about the basics of public heath. Then, towards the end of the semester, Bright began working on a long-term practicum, which was a project where he had the opportunity to figure out risk-assessments, assess community health problems, and try to pose solutions to these problems. Throughout the whole semester, the main focus of the program was to study health implications and applications throughout the whole country of Thailand.
For his practicum, Bright focused on the dental and nutritional health of local Thai people. Bright and his fellow students performed risk assessments to figure out what the most pressing problems in each community were and then split up into groups to decide what health intervention they wanted to try to implement in response. This project gave him the opportunity to visit rural villages and witness first hand local health issues and the impact of their interventions. The project had a specific community education focus, and in the end Bright and his cohort developed dental and nutritional health educational programming.
However, a semester abroad is not always easy, and Bright faced his own set of challenges. The language barrier topped his list. Although he could speak in Thai at a basic level, it was very difficult to find his bearings in a country where English was not the first language. “Although this was tough,” he says, “it was a fun challenge because I could practice speaking a foreign language and my Thai language skills improved significantly across the course of the semester.”
Another challenge Bright faced was getting used to how the courses were structured. “In the U.S., a typical class doesn’t last for more than about an hour. However, in Thailand, class lasted three to four, even five hours at one time. It was very different, much more challenging and tiring.”
Through studying abroad, Bright had the opportunity to learn a lot about public health. “My experience helped me realize not only how similar we all are in terms of health problems that we experience on a global level, but also how we deal with those problems depending on the resources we have and our own individual cultures and beliefs.” He explained further, “Some people have more X, while other people have more Y, and the different places we live in give us different resources and cultural beliefs that shape the way we access our health care.”
Bright shared his advice for students who are interested in going abroad but have their doubts: “The best advice I could give is just to do it, regardless of doubts or fears you have.” He said that when he applied to his program, he worried about what would happen if he went and ended up not having a good experience. He advises students to just do it and not to be scared because “if you are presented with the opportunity, you need to do it!” However, students must take important details into mind, like finances, but if these are squared away, “you just need to make it happen for yourself.”
Regarding his time at UMass, Bright said that his freshman-year “Intro to Sociology” course had a major impact on him. He explained how this course delved into how powerful the dynamics and connections between social class, race, culture, and all the “-isms” really are and how these impact and influence everything we do. He added that everything goes back to the intertwined aspects of social hierarchy that are ingrained in our society.
In addition, Bright is very involved with many different RSOs on campus, including Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the African Student Association, and the Black Mass Communication Project. All of these organizations have had an important and powerful impact on him, and through his involvement, Bright has left his mark and given back to the campus as well.
After he graduates, Bright hopes to get experience working in the Public Health field. Down the road, he plans on applying to master’s programs in epidemiology, though this may be “subject to change.” He expressed gratitude for the opportunities he’s had while at UMass, including the resources, workshops, and career fairs sponsored by the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. He said the university has supported him and provided resources to help everyone to succeed, just as he has.