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A field service trip to South Africa with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s International Psychology program changed Marissa Vishnu-Mack’s perspective on poverty and the human experience.

Crossing Cultures

Ph.D. in International Psychology, Trauma Concentration

A field service trip to South Africa with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s International Psychology program changed Marissa Vishnu-Mack’s perspective on poverty and the human experience.

Like most Americans, Marissa Vishnu-Mack had always considered food and clothing among the necessities of life—the bare essentials most people needed to survive. But as The Chicago School of Professional Psychology student learned on a field experience to South Africa, the basic amenities we take for granted in our culture are a luxury to people who live in some of the poorest parts of the world.

“The entire experience was humbling, to recognize that it is truly the simple things in life that can have the greatest impact,” says Vishnu-Mack, a Ph.D. candidate in the International Psychology online program who expects to graduate in 2017. “The tour guide of the Kliptown Youth Program reminded us that food and clothing are a privilege. These simple, yet powerful words will forever impact my role as a future international psychologist. I will not take for granted the stark realities of the vulnerable yet resilient populations I will work with.”

In keeping with The Chicago School’s engaged professional model, the field experience to the Johannesburg, South Africa region was meant to expose international psychology students to a variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the work they do in the area.

“Some focused on violence,” Vishnu-Mack explains. “Others focused on empowering children and families due to the head of the household being HIV-positive or killed.”

She was particularly moved by a visit to Soweto and what she saw at Kliptown—a community development initiative designed to take young people “from poverty to opportunity” with tutoring, athletic, and arts programs.

“I was in awe of the work being done there. Being able to assist individuals in developing themselves with no access to tertiary education is quite an undertaking,” Vishnu-Mack says. “Personally, as our group toured the one-room shack of an elderly gentleman, my heart broke into pieces. It’s so hard to believe that in these modern times, there is still such dire poverty.”

A psychology instructor at a Wyoming community college, Vishnu-Mack praises the field experience requirement for giving her international psychology studies a unique global perspective.

“As an international psychologist, it’s imperative to be sensitive to the local culture and avoid stereotypes,” she explains. “I was humbled but also impressed with the sheer kindness of the South African people. Throughout the field experience, it was exhibited that heart and compassion have immense power to overcome obstacles in life.”

For students at The Chicago School contemplating a field experience, Vishnu-Mack has this advice:

“Be present. Be in the moment. And absorb all that you can,” she says. “At the end of every day, I tried to engage in self-reflection with the knowledge that I may never engage in such an experience again. It was truly life changing.”

 

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