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Bringing relief to Nepal

March 21, 2016

ASU doctoral student Ashley Hagaman won a Fulbright to study suicide, health systems

Ashley Hagaman has lived through one of the most devastating disasters of the decade while doing research in Nepal.

Hagaman, who is pursuing a doctorate in global healthin the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, a unit within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, won a Fulbright grant to study suicide and health systems.

Three months after her research started, in April 2015, an earthquake hit Nepal, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring 21,000. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless and strong aftershocks continued for weeks.

“Our work halted as my colleagues feared for their families and their future,” said Hagaman, who is from Michigan.

“I was awestruck when my co-workers, many of which lost their homes and loved ones, immediately began providing emergency psychosocial services to those living in the worst hit areas.

“It was hard. It was scary. But we were all in it together, and that was incredible.”

Suicide is not studied in Nepal, and the nature of Hagaman’s work is challenging.

“It's always emotional,” she said. “But it’s also beautiful to link families to services, to see communities initiate support groups and to collect information that we can use to design a program that can help prevent future suicides.

“It's tough, but our team makes it hopeful.”

Hagaman answered some questions about her Fulbright project.

Question: Can you give an overview of what you’re doing in Nepal?

Answer: In Nepal, suicide is speculated to be the leading cause of death amongst women of reproductive age. Despite its massive burden, health and development organizations have no prevention programs in place, and the government doesn't collect any suicide-related data.

I study how the health priorities are skewed, often reflecting the interests of multi-lateral agencies, world powers and government ministers instead of the needs of local people. I study how the health system neglects a leading cause of death. I study how suicide is experienced, perceived and dealt with at both the local and global level.

To do this, I work in both Kathmandu (the country's capital) and a rural western Himalayan district called Jumla. I spend time with families who have lost someone to suicide, what the drivers were, and I track how that death never gets identified by the health system.

Finally, I work alongside a local mental health non-governmental agency to develop the first suicide prevention program that we can implement in future work.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: If I'm in my rural field site, we'll likely be trekking to find a family that lost someone to suicide. We usually have to walk two to three hours and will take their interview for two hours or so. There's usually a lot of tea consumed, baby goats held and difficult conversations had.

In Kathmandu, I'm either spending the day with a police officer (the only officials who investigate and document suicide cases), doctors (treating attempted suicides in the large government hospital), or government officials (making decisions about what health issues to prioritize and which ones won't receive any funding). My day always ends with “dal bhaat” with my family — the traditional Nepali meal including rice and lentils.

Q: What do you do on the weekends?

A: We hike as much as we can! Nepal is a gorgeous country with so much to do outside. We'll do small day hikes in the mountains surrounding the Kathmandu valley, or take a weekend trip to a rural district with great trekking routes. I also run with a local running club to learn new towns

Q: What’s been the best part of your experience?

A: Nepal is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I get to live and work under the Himalayas, hike in carefully terraced land and develop relationships with incredible people and communities. I love that I learn something new every day. Even if all I have to do is laundry, something exciting will happen. I love that I now have Nepali brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles who will laugh at my awful Nepali and make the most delicious tea. I also get to work with an incredible team of brilliant researchers that believe, together, we can make a mental health a priority in a country where there is tremendous need. 

Q: Has anything funny happened during your adventure?

A: Every single day. Living in a country where the language, culture and everyday activities are not your own, you're constantly messing up — and the best way to deal with it is to laugh it off.

I have no shortage of funny stories of me making a fool of myself. But one of my favorites is when I was in the southern part of the country, which has jungles with rhinos, tigers and elephants. I was on an evening walk with friends and we came upon a giant suspension bridge leading into a jungle. We happily went exploring, joking about encountering a wild rhino. AND THEN WE DID.

That’s also when we figured out that we took a bridge to an isolated island and the only way to get home was to follow the rhino. We heard that if you run in zig zags, rhinos can't easily follow you. So we ran through the brush, curving in as many zig zags as possible, laughing at how ridiculous this was.

We made it home safe, and proud that we successfully got into, and out of, a precarious encounter with a very large animal.

Q: What will you bring back from your experience that will help you in your career — or your life?

A: My research funded by Fulbright will be the platform for the development of suicide-prevention programs I hope to implement as a professor. Currently there are no public health programs.

I'll continue to learn alongside my fellow Fulbrighters and I'm eager to see many of them back in Nepal soon.

Q: What’s next for you, after you return?

A: I'll write my dissertation and hope to graduate by spring 2017. I want to be a professor in a school of public health. I'm excited to create classes about global mental health and innovative field research methods. I'll continue my research in Nepal and other low-income settings, shifting my focus to testing public health interventions to reduce suicidal behavior.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Finding tea and hospitality in Turkey

March 21, 2016

ASU grad Allison Weidemann wins a Fulbright to teach English

Arizona State University graduate Allison Weidemann is spending a year in Turkey, where she has been embraced by the community.

“Turks have a reputation for their notable hospitality and I have absolutely found that to be true,” said Weidemann, who earned an undergraduate degree in sustainability and a master’s degree in global health. She won a Fulbright grant to spend a year as an English teaching assistant.

“The best part of my experience has been being invited into the homes and lives of the people around me. I have joined in the lively traditional dancing at an engagement celebration, and stood solemnly at a graveside as flowers were arranged in memory of a beloved sister.

“I’ve watched my host community react to the refugee crisis with concern and respond to the bombings in their capital with courage,” said Weidemann, who is from Gilbert.

“Turks value making time and space to be together with others to share the bitter and sweet of life.”

Allison Weidemann in Turkey

ASU graduate Allison Weidemann in Turkey, where she is teaching English after winning a Fulbright award.

She answered some questions about her Fulbright year in Turkey:

Question: Why did you decide to apply for a Fulbright?

Answer: I had previously traveled to Turkey, studied Turkish at ASU, and worked with college-aged English language learners as a student worker in ASU’s Global Launch program, and I had enjoyed these experiences immensely. Thus, when I learned about the Fulbright ETA program in Turkey, I was eager to apply because it offered the opportunity to immerse myself more deeply in Turkish language and culture while helping university students improve their English.

Q: Can you give an overview of what you’re doing in Turkey:

A: I live in Amasya, a charming, small city in north-central Turkey that is situated along a river, nestled between a cluster of mountains and rife with history. I teach listening and speaking to 105 students at Amasya University. My students take a total of about 24 hours of English classes per week as part of a year-long, intensive English preparatory program.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: On a typical day, I chat with some Turkish ladies while waiting for the city bus that I take uphill to the university. I teach two or three two-hour classes, in which I facilitate listening exercises, group discussions and activities in order to help my students practice processing and producing spoken English. In the middle of the day, I eat lunch with my Turkish colleagues at the university dining hall. I walk home after school, bumping into and having short exchanges with my students as I make my way down the hill. I usually unwind by making dinner and watching television with my Turkish roommate (to practice my own listening comprehension) or by going out to a restaurant or café with friends.

Q: What do you do on the weekends?

A: On the weekends that I don’t travel to another of Turkey’s many incredible sights and cities, I hang my laundry out to dry on my balcony before walking to the “Pazar” (bi-weekly farmer’s market) to buy produce for the week. I usually do some lesson planning, catch up with my friends and family back home, and spend time with Turkish or ex-pat friends walking along the river or sitting at a café playing “tavla” (backgammon) while sipping “çay” (Turkish tea).

Q: Have there been any challenges?

A: Starting life over in a new setting and a new language has been extremely humbling. Especially during the first few weeks, the simplest tasks were enormous challenges. My first time at the grocery store, I remember thinking, “Here I am, a Fulbright scholar at the height of achievement, and I’m making my shampoo selection based purely on the color of the bottle since I can’t make anything else out!” Looking back, those kinds of moments are some of my funniest memories.

Q: What will you bring back from your experience that will help you in your career — or your life?

A: I will bring back major empathy for people who start over in a completely new context. I will also be able to draw from the language-learning strategies that I’ve acquired here in my future language learning and teaching pursuits.

Q: What’s next for you, after you return?

A: The Fulbright ETA program in Turkey is unique in that it offers the option to renew your grant and stay for a second year. After my second year in Turkey, I want to return to Phoenix and continue working with English language learners, whether refugees, immigrants or international students, to extend hospitality and assist their social and cultural adjustment. 

Q: What would you tell someone who is contemplating applying for a Fulbright?

A: Once the glitter of the prestige of winning a Fulbright settles to the ground, you will find yourself in one of the most challenging, humbling and stretching situations of your life. However, the lessons learned, relationships developed and perspective gained from such an experience make it absolutely worth it.

Top photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now