Meet Lauren Jacobson, the 2020 winner of the Study a Master’s in Europe Scholarship!
Lauren Jacobson has been awarded €5,000 towards her tuition fees for a Master in International Health at the KIT Royal Tropical Institute in cooperation with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Watch an interview with her or read the interview transcript below.
Abby: Can you tell us why you chose to study abroad in the Netherlands?
Lauren: There are a few reasons why I chose the Netherlands. I think, from a professional standpoint, I'm a women's healthcare practitioner in the US, and I'm largely focused on reproductive and sexual health rights and gender-based violence prevention and mitigating the effects of it.
The Netherlands is very progressive in the area of sexual and reproductive health rights, so that was appealing. From a nursing standpoint, if I eventually wanted to work as a nurse, they do have nurse specialists which is kind of similar to the nurse practitioner role in the US, so that was appealing, as well.
Also, just thinking of where I would want to spend my time, I've been to Amsterdam twice and really fell in love with the city. I love the biking culture and everyone's kind of laid back. But there's still that cultural difference from the US. I didn't just want to go to an English-speaking country, despite the fact that everyone here does speak really good English. It felt different enough, but not too shocking.
Abby: And how did you pick Master in International Health in particular?
Lauren: When I was looking for programs, I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to do a Master in International Health or a Master of Public Health. I actually asked a few of my former nursing professors what they thought, then, them knowing my background and my goals, suggested the international health route because they know that I'm also passionate about working with disadvantaged populations in low and middle-income countries. So, that led me more toward the Master in International Health because KIT also has a Master of Public Health.
Within their Master's, there's a lot of flexibility. You have a core course, which I'm finishing now, that focuses on tropical medicine, but after that, you actually get to pick courses that focus on your content area. For me, that's sexual and reproductive health rights. I actually get to work with a content expert. She picked the courses that I would like to take next and also formulate my thesis.
Abby: Why did you pick KIT as an institution?
Lauren: For some of those reasons I just mentioned, but KIT is very focused on sustainable development. They focus a lot on gender. They have a whole sexual and reproductive health rights team, as well. So, even when I'm thinking about my next steps after the Master's, it's kind of an ideal place where I would see myself someday working. I really like their overall mission. Again, the flexibility of getting to really narrow down and choose my path in my focus area. That's pretty much it.
Abby: Can you tell us a little bit more about where you are from and what has led you up to this point?
Lauren: I'm from Connecticut in the US. I did my undergraduate there, as well, at the University of New Haven. I studied biology and forensic science there. Kind of early on, I got focused on human rights issues through the forensic science pathway and then I learned quickly too that I wanted to provide care. I wasn't sure in which direction: nursing, physician's assistant, nurse practitioner, doctor. I started thinking about a way to integrate my desire to be a clinician with this forensic science background that I was also passionate about.
I think, growing up, I have younger siblings, so I watched my mom and my step-mom be pregnant with my siblings. I remember at a young age taking a lot of interest in that and being very focused on women's health. I've had the fortune of having a lot of strong women in my life. It was kind of natural that I went into being a women's health nurse practitioner. So, that came later. I went to Boston College for that bit.
Abby: Do you want to talk a little bit about your work, as well?
Lauren: I worked as a nurse practitioner in Boston in the obstetrics and gynecology department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for a couple of years. I've worked in family planning, as well, part-time. I also volunteer for Physicians for Human Rights, so I do forensic medical evaluations for asylum seekers. Physicians for Human Rights does a lot of different things in the realm of human rights.
Asylum seekers, when they come to the US, they create an affidavit telling their story of why they're seeking asylum. Their chance of getting asylum increases significantly. I don't remember the exact statistics. But it was something, the last time I checked, from a 40% chance to an 80% chance increase in getting asylum if they have a medical or psychological evaluation from a healthcare provider that's documenting the evidence of their trauma - whether psychological or medical. So, I would do those evaluations, which involved interviewing people about their experiences and then looking at physical signs of trauma.
Abby: Can you tell us a little bit your work as Director of Communications and Administration for the Global Nursing Caucus?
Lauren: So, the Global Nursing Caucus, I actually started volunteering there in, I think, 2016. I'd heard about it from a professor at Boston College who knew a professor at Boston University who had started this Global Nursing Caucus. I was looking to get more involved in global health and working with gender-based violence prevention. She [my professor] put me in contact with this woman, Monica Onyango, who's on the Board of Directors at the Global Nursing Caucus. She kind of became my mentor in this area, so gender-based violence and global health. So, I volunteered with them for a few years.
Now, I work very, very part-time as their Director of Communications and Administration, managing their website, helping promote global nursing opportunities, researching and writing their monthly newsletter. The Global Nursing Caucus's goal is to the role of nurses in global health practice, education and policy through advocacy, collaboration, engagement and research. This all kind of ties in to now, with a lot of what I'm doing and learning about with my Master in International Health.
Abby: I just wanted to ask you a few questions about the scholarship. We had a lot of applicants to it, and I'm really curious if you would have any tips for people applying for scholarships with us in the future, or to any other scholarships. Do you have any kind of help, insight or tips you would give to them?
Lauren: I think my best advice for this particular scholarship is to be really honest and think about why you are interested in going abroad and what excites you. It can be difficult sometimes, I think, to be honest and really open, but I think when you're writing a piece that is designed to catch people's attention, being honest and open can really be helpful.
I think, in general, with scholarships, I did a lot, a lot, a lot of googling, so definitely do that and use the scholarship portals. I was quite hesitant, actually, using those because I wasn't sure if any of it was legitimate or not. It turns out it was, so that's great! I would also ask other students or people that you know who have applied for scholarships before.
Abby: To close up, I'd like to just ask you a few questions about your studies now. I'm curious about how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected your studies or changed your plans in any way. I'll start there.
Lauren: That's a really relevant and good question. COVID-19 — I wasn't even sure that I'd be able to come, so I had been thinking about moving and studying abroad for two-and-a-half years. I'd finally decided "okay, I'm doing it", got in and then there was a travel ban. I didn't know if I'd even be able to go. It was a lot of anxiety up until the last minute, figuring out if I would be able to travel. I'm very fortunate to have been able to travel.
There are some people on our program who have only just now been able to come. So, I am lucky. It's definitely different than I envisioned, studying in the Zoom-social distancing world. Again, we're fortunate, from a government standpoint, to be able to still be in class. There's about twenty-eight of us. So, we're in a big auditorium where we can social distance. It's not quite the socialization picture that I envisioned, meeting new people, but, again, I'm still fortunate to be able to interact with people from all over the world on this course.
As far as living in Europe goes, I love Amsterdam. It's wonderful to be able to bike around and it's beautiful and I have been able to go to some museums and do a few cultural things. But I haven't gotten to travel around in the way that I had maybe hoped. But again, I'm pretty grateful to even just be here.
Abby: What is your long-term? Can you talk a little bit about your long-term goals with this program and where you hope to go in the future?
Lauren: The big question! So, I definitely am still planning to stay focused on sexual and reproductive health rights and gender-based violence prevention and management. I go back and forth between "do I want to jump back into providing hands-on clinical care" or "do I want to do more project management"?
Ultimately, what I'd like to do is have a sustainable impact and encourage other people to do the same. I think the nice thing is that I'm flexible and I have a lot of ideas of things that would interest me. But I'm still narrowing it down. I like the idea of working for an international organization, gaining new skills.
But I also really find a lot of value in advocating for my patients and caring for my patients. But there are other ways to do that, as well. I know I want to focus on disadvantaged populations. I'm still figuring out the exact next steps. But this Master in International Health is definitely helping me connect with other people and get more ideas, but also figure out specifically what things I really value, as well.
Abby: I think some of that speaks to the final question that I have for you. But maybe you could add a little bit to it. In the essay prompt for the scholarship, we asked the candidates how they see themselves developing as a globally-minded leader in the future and how their program will fit in to that. What do you think, now that you've gotten into your program and you've begun your international study?
Lauren: I think, like I said, if I want to work with an international organization, or if I'm working in hands-on patient care with people from other countries and culture, so refugees and immigrants, or if I'm working in a low/middle-income country, one of the big things that is so important is being able to communicate across cultures and collaborate with people from different countries and across cultures.
When you talk about globally-minded leadership, I think that one of the things that we get through travel and maybe educational training, because we've had some courses on this this fall, is a broadening of your mind and being more aware of what biases or cultural values you bring to the table, but also how that affects the people you're either working with in an international organization or the patients that you're seeing and how it affects their health. Whether they're clinicians or not, colleagues, project leaders, too. I think that, one of the big things I've seen, is that I've started to expand on that globally-minded leadership bit by learning about intercultural communication and getting to know myself a little bit more, as well.
Also, watch a reaction video of Lauren below.
If you're inspired by Lauren's story, please consider supporting Thistle Farms, a ;nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to helping women survivors recover and heal from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction.
Are you inspired by this and want to apply for our scholarship?
We've been awarding the Study a Master's in Europe Scholarship for fall semesters since 2020. Click below to learn about eligibility and the application process!