London Town

By: Maggie Williams

As I sat on the plane to London today, I talked with some recent high school graduates on their way to study abroad for the summer. As we talked, their excitement and anticipation reminded me of the jitters I felt last summer as I too travelled to London for a study abroad program. I wish I could say that on the second go-round I now feel totally confident and sure of myself, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Last summer, my anxiety came from traveling alone to a new place, and hoping that the peers I met upon arrival would be good friends, study partners, and travel mates during our program together.

This time, the mix of excitement and nerves are different. I feel much more confident as a solo traveler now, but the purpose of my travel this summer isn’t for a study abroad program. Instead, I will be doing independent research for my thesis in medical anthropology. My study is called “The Professional Experiences of Midwives in the United Kingdom and the United States,” and my data will be collected through interviews with midwives in both the U.K. and the U.S. This topic may seem a bit off the wall at first, but as someone who hopes to work in women’s health, the difference in the prevalence of midwifery between the U.S. and U.K. is intriguing to me. For instance, in the U.S., midwives deliver less than 10% of all babies, whereas in the U.K., they deliver more than half. Additionally, concerning birth outcomes, the rates of maternal and infant mortality in the U.K. are better than those in the U.S., along with a lower cesarean section rate in the U.K. I hope that through interviewing midwives in both countries about their work experiences, I can learn more about the factors contributing to these differences.

While my interviews in the U.K. are concentrated into the next six weeks, I’ve been working on this project since the beginning of the spring semester. The process of designing a study, collaborating with a faculty mentor, obtaining IRB approval to work with human subjects, and identifying participants abroad has been more work than I originally anticipated. However, designing my own project has also given me a greater appreciation for the undertakings of research, even when it is on a fairly amateur level like my own. Ultimately, all of the work that has led to this project has made me excited to finally start interviewing!

So, back to feeling nervous on the plane today. Last summer, I was anxious about meeting the peers on my program, but I’m glad to look back and say that several people on the program ended up becoming much more than travel companions, some even lifelong friends. Remembering my good fortune last summer, I look forward to beginning my research, expecting some inevitable challenges, but optimistic that I will learn more than I ever expected to. I am especially grateful for the chance to learn more about women’s health in another country and to incorporate this project into my long-term plans to pursue a career in women’s health.