1 of 3 Experience

Connecting across Cultures

Many of the pivotal moments in Katherine Stanley’s education have occurred far from Grounds—but considering her interest in international development, that is only logical. Stanley was drawn to U.Va. by its innovative dual master’s degree program in public policy and public health. Thanks to the global connections University faculty members have established over the last decade, she’s had ample opportunity to build her international résumé. In just the two years since she enrolled, Stanley has worked in Africa three times.

She took her first trip as a graduate student the summer after she arrived. With the assistance of a Stephanie Jean-Charles Memorial Fund Fellowship from the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, Stanley helped Spark MicroGrants, a nonprofit, launch its formal grant program in Uganda. While in Africa, she also evaluated projects the organization supported in Rwanda.

She then accompanied Carol Anne Spreen, associate professor of education, to Uganda to evaluate a life skills curriculum for elementary schools being introduced in the rural northern part of the country. “This was a real eye opener for me,” Stanley says. “It helped me understand what it takes to succeed with a project like this.” This work formed the basis for her master’s thesis in public policy, which she completed last spring.

This past summer, Stanley spent two months in South Africa. She studied security issues in the townships in Cape Town and used nontraditional techniques to map the behaviors that women adopted to protect themselves. With students from the University of Venda, she then took part in a program to educate community health care workers about hypertension and diabetes under the auspices of U.Va.’s Center for Global Health.

“The key is to figure out how we connect and build relationships on that.” Katherine Stanley

Stanley’s immersion in other cultures has helped her personally as well as professionally. “Any time you interact with people outside your comfort zone, you learn about yourself,” she says.

She also finds that people share more across cultures than they might expect. Last summer, Stanley, who practices yoga, walked into a Rwandan sewing cooperative to find that every woman there had the skills to lead a yoga class. After making yoga bags for years, they learned to practice yoga. “The key,” Stanley says, “is to figure out how we connect and build relationships on that.”