Calder Hollond ’21 had just hours to pack up and leave Argentina three weeks into her study abroad program last March. The abrupt change in plans caused by the global COVID-19 upheaval, however, did not derail the Pomona senior’s research, language and cultural experience. Her project, “The perspectives and experiences of professionals in the field of assisted reproduction in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and Bahía Blanca in 2020,” won one of only two Academic Achievement Abroad awards this fall from The Forum on Education Abroad. Hollond is the first Pomona College student to win the award. She will present her research during the organization’s virtual conference on March 5, 2021.
Hollond came to Pomona expecting to major in English but found her calling instead at the intersection of gender and women’s studies and medicine. “I knew for a long time I wanted to do study abroad,” she says. It was a way “to increase my conversational skills in Spanish, take classes in a new and interesting subject, and expand my worldview.” Advisers in the Office of Study Abroad recommended she explore the Argentina: Public Health in Urban Environments program in the School for International Training. It combines the study of language with exploration of healthcare policies and systems, epidemiology and research methods in public health. She arrived in the Argentine capital on February 26, 2020 and moved into the apartment of a “host mom” who spoke only Spanish.
News from classmates studying abroad in Europe and Asia told of quick returns to the U.S. as COVID-19 spread rapidly, but Hollond says those based in South America were hopeful they could finish out their programs. That all changed in mid-March. “Within 24 hours I was out of Argentina,” she says, landing in the virtual world of classes and research done from her childhood bedroom. “I was shocked by how much Spanish I still learned,” she says, and her resulting project, a 53-page qualitative research analysis written entirely in Spanish, stands as tangible proof.
The Argentine-based program in which Hollond enrolled includes five classes. It culminates in an individual research project; Hollond chose to examine infertility and assisted reproduction. Unlike the U.S. and many other countries, Argentina has, by law, made infertility treatment free of charge since 2013. From her home in Linwood, Kansas, population 400, Hollond
Zoom-interviewed—all in Spanish—six healthcare providers in Argentina. Two were psychologists, two were medical doctors and two worked as lab technicians. Her aim, as she wrote in her award entry, was “to define the barriers to access that still exist, the opinions of healthcare providers within the field, and the changes that still need to be made.”
Hollond notes that infertility “is a lot more of a public health problem than people think.” In fact, she explains, contrary “to a common stereotype that infertility only impacts high-income women, infertility is more common in low-income than in high-income individuals, and it’s important to re-center our focus on this.”
The Argentine healthcare providers Hollond interviewed expressed generally positive views toward all groups of patients. She did, however, find cognitive dissonance evident at a private clinic that had no low-income patients. Speaking of those with low income, one individual told her, “Those people don’t need these treatments. They need fewer kids.” Hollond believes that this point of view, “that certain people aren’t deserving of having kids or accessing infertility treatment,” needs to change.
While her study abroad research focused only on Argentina, Hollond is expanding it in her senior thesis. The opening chapter, she says, uses the U.S. and other countries as examples of the ways policies about assisted reproduction vary. And Hollond is hoping to expand her research. She has applied for both Fulbright and Watson fellowships. The latter would be an award that would allow her to explore relevant policies in six countries. “Your experience is so affected by where you live,” she explains. By someday publishing on the topic, Hollond hopes to show “implications of policies for Argentina and other countries,” so people can “learn from those mistakes and successes.”
Once international travel becomes possible again, Hollond wants to experience more of what this pandemic year cut short. “Study abroad made me want to travel more in the future,” she says. Then she plans to settle into the long haul of medical training with the goal of becoming an OB-GYN. Her 2020 experience in Argentina—and in Kansas—“helped me to realize one of my longest-held goals: culminating my years of Spanish study with a fluency gained from language immersion,” she concludes. “Knowledge of Spanish is an invaluable tool in the healthcare field, as it will allow me to help a greater range of people.”