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Internship will take Van Laeken to remote areas of India

April 17, 2012 | John Farless
John Farless
Director of News and Information Services News and Information Services 812/228-5157
Article Photo
Brittney Van Laeken
Photo Credit: USI Photography Services

Brittney Van Laeken, a nursing major at the University of Southern Indiana, is headed to India this summer as one of four USI students awarded fully-funded Global Engagement Internships made possible through USI’s International Programs and Studies.

She is coordinating her four-week trip through Cross-Cultural Solutions, an international volunteer organization - one of the oldest in the region. In preparation for her trip, from May 25 to June 4, she has been researching the area and its diverse population.

Her experience will take her to the far reaches of northern India; to the city of Dharamsala in Himalayas, where she will work with the local community. Since 1959, the city has been an enclave for the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government. The city is separated into two distinct areas with many rural pockets and villages within walking distance.

Faculty mentor Dr. Marie Opatrny, associate professor of social work, will spend 10 days in India overseeing Van Laeken’s work and helping design her research project. “I’m excited to be working with her,” said Van Laeken. “My heart is really in doing nonprofit work. I’m interested in social change. I chose nursing as a major because I felt like it would open more doors for me, but at the same time I could still do what I was interested in.”

At 32, and a single mother, Van Laeken is a nontraditional student. She began her education at USI in 1998 as a fine arts major. However, family and life circumstances didn’t allow her to finish her degree. She transferred to Indiana University and later the University of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, where she continued work toward a fine arts degree. She later spent several semesters at Ivy Tech after moving back to the Evansville area. When she decided to go back to school again, she decided to pursue a career that would be more lucrative. She has been enrolled in the Nursing Program for two years and hopes to graduate in 2014.

“This is a big deal for me because typically study abroad programs are not completely covered,” she said. “To be given this opportunity is the equivalent of winning the lottery. As a single parent, I could never afford something like this on my own. I’ve always wanted to travel internationally.” 

Van Laeken plans to focus on public health and health education during her time in India, particularly in the area of women’s issues and assistance for lower socio-economic status populations. She plans to research the weaknesses and strengths of the local culture and its healthcare, as well as issues related to over-population. Her work will include a focus on adults with alcohol and substance abuse problems, which are common in the Tibetan community.

“I chose India partly because even though they’ve become a very technologically advanced country, they still have a lot of issues with poverty and with diseases that have been eradicated elsewhere, like tuberculosis, malaria, and even polio in some areas,” she said.

“Ultimately I’d love to do international work,” she said. “I believe that healthcare is a human right. My goal is to work with a nonprofit organization of some sort whether it’s providing public health to local communities here in the United States or working internationally.”

Van Laeken's was one of four Global Engagement Internships awarded in spring 2012 through USI’s International Programs and Studies. See the links at top right for more.

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