Monday May 1, 2017

Student Profile: Emily Kegel

University of Dayton senior Emily Kegel took an immersion trip to Cameroon during her first year that changed her life. The premedical major from Louisville, Kentucky, was described by history professor Julius Amin as "one of the leading proponents for diversity and inclusion on campus." She soon will embark on a two-year journey to Botswana to serve in the Peace Corps.

How did your immersion trip to Cameroon impact your life?

My trip to Cameroon was one of my first major trips outside of the United States. I did not know much about Africa, but I had always wanted to go. I really got to see what living in a different culture was like. I fell in love with how gracious everybody was and the culture itself.

What was the passion you found during your immersion trip?

Part of the immersion trip was staying with a host family and the other part was working. I was able to work in a district hospital, and I was able to see health care on that level. It was pretty shocking to see their infrastructure compared to the U.S. That is what sparked my immediate interest in the health care aspect of the trip. Living with a host family helped me integrate into the culture and helped push my initial passion forward. Being able to come home and discuss my day with them and hear how they felt about their health care system and other issues and events was extremely insightful and eye-opening.

What made you want to learn more about the African culture?

African culture specifically spoke to me because of how it's community-based. There is a pretty significant difference between eastern and western cultures, which I was able to see first hand. West African culture is very collectivistic and that resonated with me. It is all about coming together, being with your neighbor and being present in moments. I also loved that technology is not a huge part of their culture; I feel like they are closer because of that.

Would you recommend an immersion trip to fellow students?

Absolutely, my trip was one of the highlights of my college career. I have always been interested in social injustice and different human rights issues, but going to live in a community where there are vast inequalities made me completely change the course of my life and where I want to go. So for me, I think the sooner you can have those moments the better.

What inspired you to put medical school on hold to serve in the Peace Corps?

My education has been a great foundation for the breadth of knowledge that I have right now, but I really wanted to take what I have learned and put it into action. Serving in the Peace Corps is my best outlet for this kind of action. Right now is a time where I do not have a lot of obligations and I can take the time to travel and really immerse myself into a culture. I want to be able to fully integrate myself for two years.

At the 2016 Stander Symposium you presented on race. What did you focus on? What interests you about race?

After the events in Ferguson, there was a symposium on race. I did a presentation with Professor Julius Amin where I talked about my cultural experience and how it related to how I viewed race relations on campus. I talked about the implication of white privilege in American culture and in Africa. People there treated me with a strange sense of reverence because I was a white American. They would run up and say, ‘white man, white man,’ and they would want to know about American culture, which was something I had never experienced before. I also noticed all the mannequins they used were white and I asked Professor Amin why their ideal of beauty is this white Americanized standard? He said it is because they look so highly upon American culture. This was strange to me because, from my perspective, their culture is just as amazingly beautiful. I feel as though it is not celebrated nearly as much as it should be. I was also able to comment about being more acutely aware of how that experience relates to race relations in America as there are inequalities that manifest themselves here in a less overt manner, but how this still plays into the current issues in today's society. I think the experience made me much more mindful and informed about the way I discuss different cultures, because I better understand what it is like living and working in one.

Why is diversity important to you?

I value an openness in understanding other people's positions in life and where they are coming from, and I think that is key in finding a common ground with others. I think if people took the time to learn about other cultures and immerse themselves in different things besides their own interests, it can open doors and create better communication between people from different backgrounds.

How do you feel about being accepted to serve in Botswana with the Peace Corps?

I am ecstatic. I told my dad I never felt more alive than when I was in Africa doing what I was doing. I have loved my time at UD and it has been great, but to be able to go on this adventure and doing it on my own is going to be an extremely formative experience. I am hoping that through this experience I am not only learning a lot about other cultures, but also about myself.

What do you hope you hope to gain from your service there?

I want to make it very clear, the village I am going to be living in has existed and will exist after I leave, and will always be that. I do not want to make myself seem like I am doing this amazing thing. It is great, but I think a big part of the program is cultural exchange. I am going there to learn about them and their culture. Hopefully they will get to learn a little bit about me and American culture. I am hoping to make lasting relationships and become a more culturally fluent individual.

Do you think what you gain from service will help you in the medical field one day?

I thought medical school was maybe the path I wanted to go down, but I really hope this experience will serve as a stepping stone as to where I want to go next. I think, when I get there, I could really fall in love with the public health aspect of my work and go get my master’s degree in public health. I am hoping this experience will shape where I want to go in the future. That is one of the main things to gain from it, to know what my strengths are but also to learn very much about other people and truly humble myself for two years.

Being a graduating senior, how would you say the University of Dayton and College of Arts and Sciences benefitted you?

The University has a lot of great organizations and different trips that will diversify your experience. The University of Dayton has given me a lot of different experiences I can draw on later in life. My trip and the clubs I have been involved with have given me a great basis of volunteer and hands-on experience that made my time in college special. The premedical program also has a volunteer program with Reach Out Clinic, and that is a really cool experience that is specific to the University of Dayton that helped me gain experience with an underserved population in a community close to me. Experiences like these have really shaped where I see myself going.

- Dawnn Fann ’19

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