With so much of the world still on most bucket lists, there has to be a compelling reason to justify a return visit to any destination.
For Ryan Lion, alum of GLA’s South Africa program, returning to Cape Town—appropriately nicknamed “The Mother City”—nearly a decade after his first trip there was a perfect way to bring his service-learning experience full circle.
Name: Ryan Lion
Hometown: Los Altos, California
Education: Undergrad: University of Notre Dame, Class of 2013
Grad School: Master of Science in Global Health, Duke University, Class of 2015
Currently studying Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine, Class of 2019
Passions and Interests: Blogging about healthcare and global health, and using social media as a force for change and a tool to connect with professionals who have similar interests
Transformational Experience: GLA South Africa: One City, Two Worlds™ (now South Africa: Cape Town Initiative™)
Making an Impact: Returning to South Africa as a graduate student studying Global Health, years after his first trip there with GLA
These days, Ryan Lion is a busy individual. He’s in medical school at Georgetown University, serves on the board of Georgetown University’s Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and in what little time he has left, blogs about healthcare and global health. Ryan received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and also has a Master of Science in Global Health from Duke University.
Even with multiple degrees and after spending years in elite higher education, Ryan firmly maintains a down-to-earth attitude and aligns his focus to giving back to the world—the qualities that got him to where he is now, and originally led him to GLA.
I was young, full of energy, wanted to explore the world, and wanted to be of service to others. However, I lacked direction as to what that actually meant, what that looked like in practice, or what it meant in the long term. I was excited about GLA given the emphasis on not just service, but service-learning. The team was full of educators and professionals that challenged me, inspired me, and helped me channel my energy in a fruitful way. I was able to try new things, figure out what I liked and didn’t like, and most importantly, make connections with people I never would have had the opportunity to interact with from countries all over the world.”
The connections Ryan made on his GLA trip would prove handy years down the road. While getting his Master’s degree in Global Health at Duke, Ryan got involved with a professor’s research project exploring the intersection of drug addiction and HIV internationally. He traveled to Cape Town for a second time, again with the objectives to serve and learn. This time, he had a firm grasp on what ethical service looked like: relationship-based, sustainable and sensitive to the context of development.
GLA led me through my first steps into the world of international development and global health, fields where I find myself very much immersed now. It helped [the GLA students] recognize that we are the ones who gain so much more than the people we were trying to help.”
Working in one of Cape Town’s townships, at a city-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic for his graduate study, Ryan reflected on his past South Africa trip to prepare for humbly connecting with a vulnerable population. He also reached out to mentors on his program to see if they were still living in the area, and if they would have a chance to reconnect—and happily, they did!
Having been to South Africa before with GLA, I was attuned to some of the intricacies of life in South Africa and accompanying challenges (like race and socioeconomic status). My experiences in Cape Town through GLA empowered me to tackle this experience with confidence. During my return, I was even able to connect with two of my old GLA counselors who were still in Cape Town.”
Ryan states that when he graduates from medical school, he’s inspired to incorporate international work, teaching, policy-writing and research into his medical practice.
When my GLA trip ended, I realized it truly was just the beginning. It helped ignite my passion and gave me a foundation upon which to build.”
This year, GLA has added Social Entrepreneurship as a focus in the curriculum of our South Africa program. The updated program, South Africa: Social Entrepreneurship Initiative™, takes place on African Leadership Academy’s global campus, allowing students to experience both Cape Town and Johannesburg while learning from leaders of social ventures and meeting peers from around the world.
Program Ryan attended:
GLA South Africa: One City, Two Worlds™ (now South Africa: Social Entrepreneurship Initiative™)
Curious about exploring your own GLA adventure? Check these out:
- GLA South Africa: Social Entrepreneurship Initiative™
- GLA Ghana: Building Healthy Villages™
- GLA Dominican Republic: Global Health Initiative™
Contributed by Margaret Chiu