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Student Travels to Nation of Georgia to Study Health Systems

December 22, 2014

Alex Krengel and Guram Gotsadze outside the Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi.
Alex Krengel and Guram Gotsadze outside the Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi.

Almost as soon as his friend Guram Gotsadze went home to Georgia a couple years ago, Alex Krengel had a desire to visit the Eastern European country.

This winter break, Krengel found his opportunity to not only visit the country but also work on a project related to his master’s degree studies in public health.

“I have a lot I want to accomplish. I’m going to learn a lot from being in Tbilisi,” Krengel told DrexelNow while working in the Georgian capital. “[I’m] experiencing a new culture and doing research. All of those learning experiences will be tremendous. They’ll sum to expand my perspective and allow me to connect.”

Arriving in Georgia Dec. 7 and scheduled to stay until Jan. 3, Krengel is working with the Curatio International Foundation (CIF), a non-profit organization which seeks to improve health systems in developing countries and transitional economies, such as nations in the southern Caucasas region of eastern Europe and western Asia.

While in Georgia, Krengel will do a literature review, which involves looking over publications relating to a specific topic. The topic Krengel is exploring is how complex adaptive systems have been applied to health systems and programs around the world.

“Specifically, the project is the foundation of a World Health Organization-funded project to create a teaching method for global health practitioners to apply complex adaptive systems to their work,” Krengel said.

Complex adaptive systems are “fluid” collections of components that interact with each other and their environment, according to the Argonne National Laboratory.

The literature review Krengel is conducting will look for any themes or patterns in publications on the subject.

His research could be applied to many different levels, whether its community-based intervention or national/federal policies.

Georgian capital Tbilisi at night.

“What’s great about this internship is that I get to do all of this cool research in a pretty cutting-edge area for public health,” he said. “Systems thinking is a focus of recent publications from our new dean of the School of Public Health, Ana Diez Roux. The techniques and tools are very young.”

Krengel said his work will “map out” theories and practices for complex adaptive systems, which will be used to improve community health and wellness.

Being in a new area where he’s doesn’t speak the language is not daunting for Krengel.

“Getting along and experiencing differences is a learning experience in itself,” he said. “It’s well worth the complications/challenges I will or have faced.”

Midway through his internship, Krengel said it was “incredible.”

“Curatio International Foundation is an amazing organizationswhich has worked in more than 25 countries doing more than 150 projects in the last decade,” Krengel said. “The lead investigator I’m working with is currently working on other projects with HIV/AIDS, conducting an evaluation for UNICEF in five countries in the southern Caucasus and Europe, and health policy analysis and development for mental health in Georgia.”

Working hard analyzing health and wellness systems, Krengel has allowed himself to play tourist a bit.

“During my time in Tbilisi, I’ve eaten a ton of delicious food, especially khinkali (a large Georgian dumpling) and khachapuri (the best is from the Aracha region) and enjoyed their rich viticulture — the wine here is incredible and the oldest in the world (look for saperavi, but good luck in Pennsylvania),” Krengel said.

He’s also been able to check out another destination that’s topped his travel list since learning its history in high school: Istanbul.

“I zipped over there on my first weekend and crammed in some sites in a day and a half,” Krengel said.

Overall, Krengel said the internship has been amazing and he hopes others will take advantage of it, since two different rotations — one in the summer, one in the winter — are available each year.

He hopes to take away a good understanding of the systems he’s studying and how they’re implemented with the goal of applying that knowledge back home in the United States or elsewhere.

A new perspective could be the most valuable take-away from his winter break abroad.

“I will have new friends and connections in a new place with different experiences, different ways of seeing and experiencing the world,” Krengel said. “If I learn nothing from my internship, having that would be worth my time here.”

Best of all, Krengel got to see Gotsadze again.

“Since I last saw him, he’s gotten married, so it’s been great getting to know his wife and see what it’s like where they are from,” Krengel said. “I am very lucky to have them as friends.”