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Experiences in Cyprus give Health Sciences student an international perspective

Oct. 13, 2023

A young woman poses among plants and buildings
Nicole Zbierzkowski spent a chunk of her summer learning about international health care in Cyprus. She was one of 17 Mizzou students who participated in a summer program at the University of Nicosia, which included a visit to the Troodos Mountains. Photo courtesy of Nicole Zbierzkowski.

Story by Ryan Gauthier

A summer in Cyprus might sound like a relaxing getaway — and it certainly included time on Mediterranean beaches — but Health Sciences major Nicole Zbierzkowski also gained a lot of insight on international health care.

Zbierzkowski, a senior in the College of Health Sciences from Volo, Illinois, chose to study abroad at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus because the program gave her a close look at the country’s health care system that centered around health care management.

“I’m studying Health Sciences with an emphasis in leadership and policy, and I want to eventually work in health care administration,” Zbierzkowski said. “The program in Nicosia helped me learn more about health care management on a global scale.”

She was one of 17 Mizzou students who participated in the summer program at the University of Nicosia this past June and July. More broadly, about 1 in 5 Mizzou students study abroad during their undergraduate careers; students in the College of Health Sciences are able to travel to places like South Korea, Greece and Peru.

Healthy connections

The program in Cyprus is led by Carolyn Orbann, an associate teaching professor with the Department of Health Sciences. This past summer was the second year for the Cyprus program, though Dr. Orbann has been leading international trips for more than a decade to places like Ghana, India and South Africa.

Thanks to community partners in Cyprus through the University of Nicosia, Orbann said students can get hands-on experience working in local private and public hospitals, clinics and nongovernmental organizations.

“Generally, we have students write a letter of intent saying what they’d like to do with their lives, and then we try to match the internship with their interests as best as possible,” Orbann said.

Zbierzkowski interned at Hope for Children, an international humanitarian organization dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children around the world. Her duties included conducting workshops for refugee children that focused on topics like nutrition and mental health.

A group of students pose on a beach near the ocean
Students participating in the summer program at the University of Nicosia were able to visit Petra tou Romiou — also known as Aphrodite’s Rock — just off the coast of Paphos. Photo courtesy of Nicole Zbierzkowski.

Beyond giving her another perspective on global health care, Zbierzkowski said the internship inspired her to work on mental health issues — particularly with children.

“Long-term I want to do something with global health because it all relates to each other, but short-term I’d love to work in a psychiatric clinic,” she said. “There’s a lot we can do to fix the stigma surrounding mental health, and this internship has pushed me to want to continue to work with populations who have mental health issues.”

Students taking career cues from internships is part of the beauty of the program, Orbann said, as it provides them with exposure to both different cultures and professions.

“So many of our students have very clear career goals,” Orbann said. “But they maybe haven’t had a chance to shadow and follow someone actually in those professions. Getting in and working with people in a professional setting — and having a certain amount of responsibility — can really tell you whether that career choice is the right one.”

A taste of the Mediterranean

While her month in Cyprus involved plenty of hands-on learning about health care, Zbierzkowski also had opportunities to explore the sights, sounds and flavors of the Mediterranean.

“The nice thing is that it includes organized weekend trips all over Cyprus,” she said. “It made it really fun because during the week I stayed busy with my internship and attending classes, and then on the weekends we were able to go to three different cities and see almost the whole island.”

Zbierzkowski’s personal highlights included leaping into the Mediterranean Sea while on a boat ride in Ayia Napa, sampling delicious nuts and candies while exploring the Troodos Mountains, and relaxing on the beach in Paphos.

“We were able to adapt so easily to such a different environment and make some great memories,” she said.

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Carolyn Orbann

Carolyn M. Orbann

Associate Teaching Professor