The University of Iowa

Spotlight: Graduating senior has eyes on Africa

December 14th, 2010

By Laura Willis, The Daily Iowan

As a child, Courtney Hageman became used to her father’s monthly work trips.

During her freshman year of high school, the eye specialist took Courtney with him to Europe. While her father gave lectures about macular degeneration, a disease that causes blindness, the then 14-year-old explored tiny Italian villages near the Mediterranean Sea.

In Italy, Hageman enjoyed listening to the sounds of an unfamiliar language and tasting exotic foods.

“Nobody spoke English there,” she said. “You were able to experience the culture as best as you could.”

With positive memories of the trip, Hageman hoped to travel abroad again. When her father asked her to help him eight years later on a work trip to Africa, she didn’t hesitate to say “yes.”

“Courtney is always up for something new,” said friend Dazi Russell. “She is my sushi buddy, and she is always willing to try outlandish things.”

The ophthalmology group, which specializes in diseases of the eye, hopes to travel to Ghana or Nigeria to correct vision and conduct research. Though the upcoming trip depends on funding and whether the American government will allow citizens to travel to certain areas of Africa, Hageman hopes to use her knowledge in journalism to write for grants or update websites about her father’s research.

“It’s one of those places that everyone should see in a lifetime rather than just read about and look at in pictures,” Hageman said.

She hadn’t ever planned to write about medical issues. The University of Iowa senior had always preferred more creative outlets, particularly photography. In the fall of 2006, she left her Iowa City home and moved to Oregon, where she took contemporary photo classes.

After two years, she decided that she wanted to focus more on writing and transferred back home to the University of Iowa, where she majored in journalism with an emphasis in art history.

Out of curiosity, Hageman took classes about African art. She had never been exposed to the art culture of the continent. Her discovery of Africa soon correlated with her love for photography. She realized that like photographs, African art had a raw quality. The artifacts looked beautiful without being modified.

“Africa seems more pure than any other place,” Hageman said. “Everything there is unique.”

In order to prepare for the move, Hageman researched the new location. She looked up everyday elements such as the spoken language, types of African food, and climate. She also visited her doctor and asked for the needed vaccinations before traveling.

“She has been really optimistic about the trip,” said Rachel Laton, a coworker of Hageman’s at Catherine’s in Iowa City. “She gets to do what she wants and be in a Third World country.”

Yet the possible danger of traveling doesn’t scare Hageman; learning about a diverse lifestyle is a risk she is willing to take.

“It’s one of those things that you have to put in the back of your mind,” Hageman said. ” You’re going because you want to help people.”