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Sophie To - OLAGA, Apia, Samoa

This is me and Moana, a good friend of mine and one of the research assistants in the OLaGA lab. Shout-out to Moana for giving me valuable input as I was finalizing the interview agenda for my study!

Career goal: My goal is to synthesize my interests in chronic diseases and health communication into a career in academia, teaching students and conducting public health research.

Internship outline: My project is titled “Body size perceptions and weight stigma experiences among Samoan adults.” Throughout the summer, I conducted qualitative interviews and collected quantitative data through a questionnaire. I also helped out with one of Dr. Nicky Hawley’s projects by visiting potential study participants’ homes to recruit, taking participant measurements in the lab and processing biological samples. I hope that the results of my study can be used to inform future interventions regarding Samoan health.

Value of experience: This internship taught me a lot and allowed me to carry out a project that will hopefully benefit Samoan health in some small way, but most importantly it reminded me that treating people with respect goes a long way, showed me that making someone laugh is the best way to earn their trust, and led me to discover that taro in coconut cream is one of the most simple and elegant dishes I have ever tasted.

Best moment/experience: My favorite moments were those spent tagging along with the Samoan research assistants to recruit study participants from around the island of Upolu. There were ups and downs (as there are in any study recruitment), but every day was like a new adventure, and there was never a dull moment. The landscapes I got to see while driving around Upolu were incredible, too – mountains and valleys with lush green forests, groves of hundreds of tall palm trees, the sparkling ocean stretching into the horizon – sights you just can’t find in the US.

Funding source: Downs Fellowship