A few times a year, Body & Soul is lucky to host a few American students on foreign study placements in London. In this blog, one of the our current placement students Rachel, explores her high school HIV education and outlines her plans for a transatlantic research project that will compare school’s responses to HIV in the US and here in the UK…
“This is my first blog post ever, and I want to make it a good one. My name is Rachel Lee and I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. I’m here in London studying abroad through my University back home and volunteering at Body & Soul is part of my program. When I was first assigned to Body & Soul I had no idea what it was. To be honest, I thought it was going to be a place for meditation. Turns out I was completely wrong. Body & Soul’s mission is inspiring and I’m glad to be part of it. This post will take you through my educational journey and personal encounters with HIV from middle school to today.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I learned what HIV was, but I think it was around the age of 13 that I knew about it. I heard about it from my teachers in biology class in middle school but I didn’t grasp the complexity of this virus they were talking about. We were all too young to understand the effects HIV has on a person and a community.
By the time I reached high school we had health classes with whole units on HIV and AIDS. That is when I really started to understand what it was. Looking back on the way they talked about HIV in class, the teacher always made it sound like a scary and dangerous virus that you could catch. There was a lot of negativity around the topic. When my teachers would talk about the people it affected they always defaulted to Africa or other developing countries where the spread of HIV can be extremely fast, but not once did they talk about the fact that it affects people from all over the world. In biology we talked about HIV too, but in a purely scientific way. These classes never acknowledged the impact HIV has on a person emotionally. That’s where one downfall exists in my education of HIV.
My friends and I lived in a bubble; we were so sheltered from the outside world that we never thought any of these “bad things” would affect us. None of us talked about HIV with each other because it didn’t affect us, it might as well not even exist, and that’s how distant we were. Little did my friends know, my great uncle’s partner passed away from an AIDS-related illness. As far as I know, I’m the only one in our group of friends that was affected by HIV. I have seen the effects this virus can have on a family. I wasn’t close with this man, but I know it was difficult for my uncle.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself “why is this person telling us this?” I’m telling you this because my classmate Nic Reynolds and I want to understand the differences between the education teens get here in London and the education teens get in the United States. We are going to give a questionnaire to our other classmates asking them questions about HIV. A similar survey was given to some students here in London and we want to compare the results with the results from our classmates. There will be a follow up blog post with our analysis of the two sets of data. Hopefully the research for this blog will help us identify where the holes in the education system are and spread awareness more effectively to others back home and here in London.
To give you guys something to do while we’re off conducting some research, think about what you were taught in school. What kind of information were you given in school? What kind of information were you given outside of school?
Something else to think about is the musical Rent. It deals with lots of issues, one of which is HIV. The article linked to this blog is about parents and school officials in the US that want to stop the high school productions of Rent because they think it is too provocative with the talk of drugs, alcohol, and HIV. What was your first reaction when you read this article? Why do you think they want to shield their children?
Please feel free to respond to this blog in the comments or in your own blog post! Let’s try and get a good dialogue going.