Establishing a framework for the release of genetically modified mosquitoes in southern Mexico
This post was written by John Nida, 2016 USAID | ND Global Development Fellow
I had looked forward to the research portion of the Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH) program since the day I was accepted into the program. After waiting for an eternity, approximately 9 months, it was finally here and I was overwhelmed with excitement to be traveling down to Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico! I have been very fortunate to travel all over the world and explore new, unfamiliar cultures and lands. I had been to Mexico several times, but only as a tourist. However, this time I was going as a researcher. I was immersed into the culture and worked alongside real people that face real threats from emerging diseases and socioeconomic instability. Ever since I fell in love with the Spanish language/culture, I have always wanted to apply my skills and knowledge to work alongside the Latino community, abroad and domestically.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and took every opportunity to immerse myself into the local community. I chose to live with a local couple in order to advance my Spanish fluency and form new relationships outside of the research facility. Despite the lack of air conditioning and warm water for showers, I quickly adjusted and would not have done it any other way. I felt very welcomed to the community from the minute I arrived. While working in the field, nearly every household I visited offered me fresh juice and food the second I walked through the door. This simple gesture really had a profound impact on me because many of these people were very poor, yet they were willing to share with some stranger they just met. Many people became very shy and surprised when they figured out I understood and spoke Spanish fluently. Admittedly, I was also very nervous to interact in Spanish since I had not spoken Spanish regularly for about two years. I was forced to get over that fear since 99.9% of the people did not speak any English. I quickly adjusted and my ability to communicate in Spanish was essential for the success of my project.
Very early on in my stay in Mexico I joined a crossfit gym. I never thought this would help me with my research, but I ended up making some close friends who would become essential for my research further down the road. After my first attempt at surveys failed, I had to redesign the surveys and wanted to distribute them to medical professionals. I wanted to do them around the entire city, not just at the research facility I was working at. My time was running out and I still had not collected my surveys, luckily my friends I had made from crossfit were more than willing to help. Several of them worked in the hospitals, or had friends that worked in the hospitals, so they were able to put me in contact with people or directly distribute the surveys. This saved me a lot of time! I was so impressed and thankful for all of their help. I was just this random American at their gym and they were willing to go out of their way to help me with my research. I never thought my friendships outside of the research facility would be so essential for my research.
I think this research project gave me better insight into the true process of research that most people naturally overlook when talking about research. I learned that research, especially on a global scale, depends so much more on relationships and external components than most people even realize; not just the hard science and your experiment. I learned this when I was in the field and am grateful I had the experience I had. Although I encountered many obstacles to my research throughout the process, I think I learned a lot about myself and my future through these struggles. The most important thing I learned: you can never have too many friends, they are there to support you and you need to be there to support them … no matter what! I hope my research and networking will provide future students (Mexican and Notre Dame) new opportunities.