Exploring Japan: Interning at the World Health Organization in Kobe, Japan

Want to know what it’s like interning for the World Health Organization in Kobe, Japan? Read on to see Ying Huang’s experiences!

I had been looking forward to working for the World Health Organization (WHO) since I got to know that a practicum is required for graduation. I have always considered it a great honor to contribute to the world’s largest and most influential NGO in the field of public health, so I applied for both the internship programs in Geneva, Switzerland (the headquarters) and Kobe, Japan (Kobe Centre). The WHO Kobe Centre (WKC) was my first choice because it fit my interests and career goals better: the Kobe Center conducts research on health in development, with a focus on how social, economic, environmental and technological determinants impact health equity, particularly in urban settings. They then use their findings to build evidence for policy-makers to achieve urban health equity.

The selection of interns at the WKC is highly competitive (as I learned later only a few are selected from thousands of applicants). They had three interns this summer. I didn’t get an interview opportunity until I informed the administrator that I was awarded the Weatherhead M.A. Training Grant, so I suppose I would probably not have gotten this opportunity without the Grant. To a great extent, the Weatherhead M.A. Training Grant has changed my life by enabling me to have such a fantastic experience.

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My duties during the internship consisted of analyzing the available dataset on inequalities in Tuberculosis across and within 13 cities in Japan; drafting sections of a technical paper describing the situation and trends; and conducting a literature review of TB policies in Japan including specific interventions undertaken by various cities. My final products included the Methods and the Results sections of the paper to be published and a summary of TB control policies at both the national level and the prefectural level. As expected, I was given a big dataset which made it an excellent opportunity for me to practice quantitative analysis using SAS. It was amazing when I succeeded in applying the skills I learned in class to a real-life project. Furthermore, I found myself suited to dealing with data, so much so that I am now considering switching my study focus to data analysis.

From the literature review, I learned much about the health system in Japan and their TB control policies. I had never been so close to the health inequality problem in big cities, and this experience has confirmed my desire to work for the underserved population in urban areas. I believe what I learned in Japan can be applied to my work in public health in China after graduation. TB is an even bigger problem in China, especially among the low-income groups in the cities.

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Although Japan is quite near China, I had never visited Japan before.  Since I didn’t have holiday on weekdays, I only travelled to several cities nearby on weekends, like Himeji, Osaka, and Kyoto, mainly to visit the historic sites. Through living in Japan, I have become much more familiar with Japanese history and culture. I also made a lot of Japanese friends as well as friends from many other countries at the WKC and the share house I lived in, which made my internship more meaningful.

-Ying Huang, MPH, Mailman School of Public Health, Epidemiology

For more information on WEAI grants, fellowships and other programs, contact Mary The Trieu, the WEAI Student Affairs Coordinator: mtt2124@columbia.edu

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