Letter From Laos

This month, for example, she’ll be graduating from Santa Clara University early, after just three years of intensive studies as a public health major, with a biology minor. (She doubled up on courses in some quarters, and took summer school classes last year.)

Come September, depending on the state of the world, Seastedt hopes to begin her master’s degree in public health at the esteemed London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where experts are involved in several aspects of COVID-19 research.

Here again, she was out in front: In the essay portion of her grad school application—written before COVID-19 surfaced—Seastedt described the importance of developing an emergency response system to rapidly identify, track and contain outbreaks of infectious diseases. She added another critical aspect would concern how global coordination works in a looming pandemic.

“And, like, a month later,” she recalls, “there is a pandemic and it is exactly what I warned in my master’s application.”

But Seastedt never predicted she’d be taking her last quarter at SCU online from her family’s home in Laos, or that she’d have to scramble to get there before the country was locked down in mid-March.

Day for Night

“I have almost no structure; it’s up to me to make that structure for myself,” says the SCU Jean Donovan Fellow and Career Center peer advisor of her online courses that her fellow students attend by day in California, which is the middle of the night in Laos.

Hana Seastedt

Hana Seastedt

As she says, “It takes time to get used to the rhythm.”

Seastedt could attend her physics class that started at 8 a.m. PST, which is 10 p.m. in Laos. But that didn’t work for her Public Health Capstone class that started 3 a.m. in Laos, or her Public Health  Race, Class and Gender class that met at 2:10 a.m. her time.

“For the public health classes, teachers record the lectures so I can watch them at my own time, and find creative ways for me to engage in the class,” she explains.

There have been other challenges. Four weeks into her public health demographics course, her professor’s father died of the coronavirus in England. The class was turned over to a new instructor.

Seastedt is also having to wrap up two projects while she is overseas. The first is a year-long senior thesis she and another student have been working on involving SCU students and condom use. As part of her Hackworth Fellowship through the Markkula Center, the pair have analyzed and drafted a new policy for SCU related to safe sex.

The second project is a Senior Capstone study examining the effects of COVID-19 on Santa Clara County’s homeless population. In this case, the non-profit Recovery Cafe San Jose is helping the students contact homeless individuals and interview them by phone.

“We’re trying to understand how they came to learn about COVID-19, what has changed for them, how the virus has changed their lives, and what fears exist, if any,” Seastedt says.

A Creative Solution

But the time difference has made interviewing people tough on her schedule. So Assistant Professor Jamie Chang suggested a solution: while her classmates collect the interviews and do the analysis, she can write the introduction and background for the project, which she says is helping her “be a little more creative in the way I participate.”

“My professors are amazing,” she says. “Each one brings something new to the table, and has a tremendous amount of expertise in their field. I have learned so much from them.”

The 21-year-old also has learned from her father’s international work in public health and from years of living abroad with her family. The experience has offered Seastedt and her two brothers rare insights into the ways of the world outside of the U.S.

Hana Seastedt takes a break from her studies near her home in Laos.
Hana takes a break from her studies near her home in Laos

Like Father, Like Daughter

Born and raised in La Jolla, Seastedt moved to Ethiopia with her family when she was nine. By her sophomore year in high school, her father’s job had taken them to Laos.

Growing up overseas “was a huge culture shock to me,” says Seastedt, as was learning about the disparities in health care. Still, California was never far from her mind, nor were thoughts of her father’s alma mater. “Santa Clara is a great school; my dad had gone there, so it was just perfect for me,” she says.

Eric Seastedt ’91 is the Southeast Asia Regional Representative for Population Services International, a non-profit global health organization with programs targeting malaria, HIV, TB, child survival, and reproductive health. He has spent the past 15 years working in healthcare development in Africa, Latin America and Asia, with an additional 15 years of global experience in the private sector, focusing on technology. Hana’s Swiss-born mother is a marriage and family therapist.

In Southeast Asia, PSI has been working to monitor notifiable infectious and communicable diseases, including dengue fever and polio. So when COVID-19 surfaced, a response plan was quickly put in place. That, along with the country’s swift lockdown (recently loosened) has helped control coronavirus cases there, says Hana.

With seven million citizens, Laos continues to report less than two dozen COVID-19 cases, and no deaths. Yet many remain skeptical of the low number of cases in a country that borders China, and depends on Chinese tourism.

Hana Seastedt and her father Eric.
Hana and her dad Eric

 

As she prepares for her upcoming finals, Seastedt says she hopes to return to the Bay Area in August to take her Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), around the same time she plans to pack up her belongings she left behind at SCU.

About her upcoming graduation, she remains philosophical. For one thing, it doesn’t involve most of the students she started out with at Santa Clara in 2017.

“My friends are juniors, so it’s a strange graduation to begin with,” she says. “I didn’t feel 100 percent like I was a senior.”

And though her father regrets that her graduation won’t be the kind of special occasion he remembers from almost 30 years ago—including SCU’s traditional Dads and Grads celebration at The Hut—she says her family has big plans to stay up late and celebrate her “virtual” rite of passage.

“I actually think it’s kind of a unique time to be graduating,” says Seastedt, looking on the bright side. “It will be something I remember for the rest of my life.”


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