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8

DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY NEWSLETTER

After falling in love and marrying an American Peace Corps volunteer she met while

teaching in her native Botswana in 1999, Didi Biorn came to the U.S. looking for

new personal and professional opportunities. The USD Department of Psychology

provided the young newlywed the perfect place to explore her emerging interest in

the field of mental health care. This December, Biorn will officially earn her doctorate

in clinical psychology from USD. She returned to Botswana in 2007, where she now

lives with her husband, Matt, and two children Khaya, 9, and Tashata, 5. She took

some time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for this newsletter.

Her responses were edited for length.

Why did you come from Botswana to the University

of South Dakota? Did you intend to study psychology

when you enrolled?

I came to the U.S. in 2000. Sioux City, Iowa, was supposed

to be our pit stop as we scouted the southwest for similar weather

to Botswana to settle. My husband was convinced the Midwest

weather would kill me. I arrived in the U.S. as a guidance and

counseling teacher. I had graduated from a three-year teacher

training college. I knew I would need to transfer my credits and

add some more hours to get a bachelor’s degree. So I set out to do

just that.

I visited the local colleges and a friend of the family made an

appointment for me to visit with Dr. Barb Yutrzenka at USD after

hearing I was interested in psychology. Barb doesn’t remember

this visit but I do because it changed our itinerary from a final

destination in the southwest to USD for the next seven years!

For a young, newly-wed immigrant, meeting with the director

of the clinical psychology program was the psychological first

aid I needed for the mixed emotions I was faced with following

the move. She answered all my questions and gave me more. My

mother in law was waiting for me in the parking lot this whole

time. I remember feeling so supported and appreciated and I knew

then I wanted to stay in Iowa and South Dakota.

My husband was not very happy with this decision. He was

keen on moving elsewhere having lived in Sioux City since he was

fourteen. He was ready to find a warmer city to move to following

his five-year stint in hot Botswana. In the end, we ended up

staying longer in the Midwest thanks to a supportive husband and

a driven, albeit naïve, immigrant wife.

What is the status of mental healthcare in Botswana?

Mental healthcare in Botswana is still in its infancy. It is both

frustrating and exciting—frustrating in that there are so many

gaps in mental health services and not many options for people

in need of our services. The flip side of this coin is that there are

so many opportunities for the few psychologists that are here to

make lasting contributions to the development, implementation

and formulation of policies and programs alike. I am therefore

involved in lobbying for the review of Botswana’s Mental Health

Act of 1971.

In 2013 I was appointed to be a member of the Mental Health

Board by the Minister of Health. The duties of the MHB involve

visiting all the prison facilities and hospitals in the country to

Q&A with Didi Biorn, Ph.D. ’14,

a Clinical Psychologist in Botswana

Didi Biorn returned to her native Botswana after

earning a doctorate in clinical psychology at USD.