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Resourceful Thinking

By Zach Nielsen ('09)
French Major, Chemistry Minor

Zach Nielsen (second to the left) with his host family in Switzerland.

I spent fall semester of 2008 on an adventure in Geneva, Switzerland, as a member of the SIT Development Studies and Public Health program. Switzerland (not Sweden! everyone gets them confused) is a small jewel in the middle of Western Europe. Itís a country so in touch with its natural resources that more than two-thirds of the countryís electricity is generated by renewable hydroelectric power; itís so in touch with its history and lineage that my host familyís ancestors have lived in the same village for over 450 years; itís so in touch with its long-standing tradition of offering warm hospitality that when I met a stranger at a grocery store and he found out that I was visiting his village and wanted to cross-country ski, he took me back to his house and let me use his brand new skis for free.

My programís theme was Development Studies and Public Health and Geneva is the perfect spot for that kind of programóitís the international super-center of all humanitarian aid and other international organizations. Instead of being in a classroom, we had class at a different aid organization every day. Our lecturers were public health professionals at organizations like the United Nations, WHO, UNHCR, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. They immersed me in the public health environment, helping me to learn in innovative ways and enabling me to see what a career in that field looks like.

My learning experiences culminated in an Independent Research Project during the last four weeks of my program. My research focused on the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on how aid agencies are inhibited from helping. I met with professionals from headquarters of organizations who enabled me to better understand the situation from different perspectives.

These are a few of the enlightening experiences that I had because I went to study in a place Iíd never been to before. Every day I spent in Switzerland was an adventure: I was immersed in Swiss culture, used my French daily out of necessity, and learned about humanitarianism and public health, all of which I know will somehow be a part of the rest of my life.