News - February 12, 2015

'I could do more than I thought'

Who? Marlies Casteleijn, MSc Health and Society
What? Five-month internship and thesis with Bridge for Health
Where? Vancouver, Canada

‘My internship took place at Bridge for Health, a Canadian organization that aims to disseminate knowledge about healthy food, especially among vulnerable groups. The main thing that attracted me was health literacy, a concept you can use to indicate the skills a person has to positively influence their own health. The founder of Bridge for Health was very enthusiastic about my ideas, based on which we developed the Bridge for Health Literacy Project together. Eventually, the study was so large and had so much potential that I also made it the subject of my thesis.

In the current literature, health literacy focuses mainly on the medical aspects. But as well as physical health, mental and social aspects also play an important role. With our project we wanted to make the concept of health literacy more holistic. In addition, we focused mainly on young people from the native American community. These ethnic groups have on average more health problems due to their background of colonization and repression. For ten weeks I gave workshops on Wednesday evenings to these young people to make them more health literate, which I found very nerve-wracking in the beginning. They have a different culture, are very shy and have difficulty starting a relationship. That made it difficult at times to forge a bond with them and make a success of the project. After ten weeks, however, I noticed that in their own quiet way they had embraced me. This was evident during the last workshop: suddenly everyone said ‘bye bye’ and they gave me a hug.  


During my internship I learned that I was capable of doing much more than I had anticipated. Thanks in part to the founder, who apparently had great faith in my abilities. For example, she asked me to give a presentation to 200 people at a conference that would be held in two days’ time. This naturally caused me tremendous stress, but happily everything went well. My internship was also a valuable networking experience. All of a sudden, I’m getting offers of work or research.’