A Life-Changing Experience Abroad
Published on 12 December 2019
When P3 student Nicole Savant first enrolled in St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s international service learning course bound for Poland, she couldn’t imagine the lasting impact the trip would have on her.
Once overseas, Habitat for Humanity arranged for the group to assist in renovating an abandoned school in Poland’s Silesia region for the House of Hope Foundation, a treatment center for children and teens with addiction and behavioral health issues. What started as a service trip quickly evolved into an opportunity for Savant to use her pharmacy background and expand her understanding of health care.
“We went into it thinking we would be building homes,” Savant explained. “But we realized that because we were working with a treatment center, we could also use our pharmacy knowledge to connect with those we were serving. Because of our pharmacy education, we were uniquely able to relate to the providers at the center and understand the treatment methods, medications and role that pharmacists would play in these children’s treatments.”
“It was an eye-opening experience and so fulfilling from a personal and professional perspective,” Savant continued. “I am extremely thankful that the College provides these opportunities.”
Savant made such a positive impression on the leaders of the center during her time there that she was invited to return and stay at the center for another five days. Jumping at the opportunity, Savant returned home, and after a quick load of laundry, boarded a plane back to Poland eight days later.
“I had no concept of what it would be like, but I was never afraid,” Savant said. “This is what I want to do for a living. I want to be able to jump into cultures and immerse myself, and my education at the College has helped me do that. We are put into situations that aren’t always comfortable, but that gives us the ability to adapt and become well-rounded individuals.”
Back in Poland, Savant settled into her quarters in the area designated for teenagers and young adults and quickly adapted to their routine. She observed therapy and medication sessions throughout the day and relished the opportunity to spend quality time with the patients.
“It was one of the most significant experiences of my life,” Savant said. “Just spending time with each individual and making a connection over those five days was incredible. Even though I didn’t speak much Polish and the kids didn’t speak much English, we were able to connect on a deeply human level through smiles and hugs.”
Following her time at the center, Savant traveled to Warsaw, Poland, to study at Collegium Civitas through a scholarship she received from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Through the scholarship, Savant attended a course examining the lasting effects that World War II left on Poland, and for her personal project, she probed deeper into the impact that the war had on health care development in the country. As part of the program, she traveled to Berlin, Kraków and Gdańsk to learn even more about German and Polish culture.
The summer experience as a whole deepened Savant’s desire to pursue a career that combines her passion for health care and travel.
“Pharmacy originally appealed to me because I saw it as a degree that could open different doors,” Savant explained. “There are so many untapped spaces in the public health realm where a pharmacist can make an impact. I like the idea of expanding the scope of pharmacy and incorporating that globally and at home. Whether it is Poland or somewhere else, my experience has solidified that global health is where I want to be.”
This story was first published in the fall 2019 issue of Script magazine. To read past issues of the magazine, visit the Script magazine archive.