The Jade Times features Xiomara “LunarIx” Santana, an alumna from the University of Iowa, for our July sister spotlight. She crossed as a member of Iowa’s Eta Class in fall 2015 and graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in health and human physiology with a minor in gender, health, and health equity. Santana spent time in Cluj-Napoca, the second biggest city in Romania, from May 17 to July 29, . She worked with the Cluj School of Public Health, connecting with mentors who are staff members, faculty members, or Ph.D. students to work on a cancer research project. We asked her questions about her experience this summer travelling to and working in eastern Europe.
How did you end up working in Romania this summer?
I applied for this program called the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT). The goal of this program is to offer undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to participate in a hands-on public health research internship in an international setting. MHIRT is specifically geared for minority students–people of color, low income, and/or individuals from rural backgrounds–to gain valuable skills and enhance your academic portfolio. The program offers two locations in Romania and Armenia. I choose Romania because it offered research opportunities surrounding my public health interest.
What’s your role?
Majority of the work I’ve aided in centers on creating a cervical cancer screening process to increase the participation of Romania’s largest ethnic group, the Roma population. The Roma (or also known as gypsies) is a group often discriminated and mistreated against in not just Romania, but throughout Europe. The mortality rate for cervical cancer is extremely high in Romania and although there’s missing data (or underreported) for the Roma population its estimated that it’s even worst in the Roma population.
Describe your experience so far in Romania.
I’ve loved my experience in Romania, but it was not easy at first as a woman of color. Romania is predominantly white so there is a lot of intense staring that happens. I was often total that I look like the Roma population by taxi drivers. That made me a bit nervous because a lot of Romanians don’t like the Roma population. This only happened when I was alone though. when I would be with other American students they understood I was also American. This happens in America too though, we categorize people in boxes that we think they fit best from the knowledge that we have. The people were extremely kind though and would go out of their way to help us.
What’s a typical day look like for you?
My typical day would be going to work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and having the rest of the day off. The office I worked in was a bit laid back and wanted us to really enjoy our time in Cluj.
What other places have you visited?
I got to visit Paris, France and Athens, Greece in June with a couple of my friends that I met in the program. Paris was a big highlight for me because it was so diverse and the food was delicious. In Athens, I got to explore and learn about many of their historical sites. As part of the program, we got to visit other parts of Romania mainly in the Transylvania area. A big highlight for me was visiting “Dracula’s castle” because I’ve been a vampire fan for a long time! After my program is over, I will head over to Madrid, Spain and spend a week there.
Overall, I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity. I would never have thought I would get to visit such beautiful places!
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