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Familiar Faces Two Worlds Apart

J Santiago with statue

September 30, 2008

Finishing the Peace Corps in July and heading to Montréal that same month was an incredibly exhausting experience. The switch from river bathing to hot showers was just one of many welcome changes. The last two years working with Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic solidified my interests in health disparities, HIV/AIDS, and migration. I learned that life as a migrant was one of survival in many cases, a grueling fight only exacerbated in the developing world. In a matter of weeks I had left these tough circumstances to pursue my academic interests as a FLAS Fellow in Montréal, Canada – home to 80,000 Haitian migrants and descendants. Although to a lesser extent, the Haitian community of Montréal has a similar story to the one I observed in the Dominican Republic. The life of a migrant is beset with extraordinary challenges as he or she attempts to integrate into society and create a home away from home. Compared to the general Canadian population, Canadians of Haitian descent have worse health outcomes, particularly with regard to HIV prevalence. The objectives of my thesis are to document the knowledge, attitudes, and practices concerning HIV/AIDS in Canadian youth of Haitian descent.

As a FLAS Fellow, I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue my French studies at McGill University. Language skills have been fundamental to each of my international experiences. With improved French, I’ve been able to meet with key research subjects and conduct research in French-speaking Canada. The fellowship has also provided me with the time and resources to take an in-depth and comparative look at the Canadian and American health care systems through independent study. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to pursue my interests and better define my career goals as a FLAS Fellow, and I look forward to continuing my time in Montréal this coming year.