Awakened from Dreaming

When you come back to a place after a long period away, or even a short one, you always expect things to be different. You expect things to have changed, to show some visual proof of the passage of time. After a year away, you wonder if the problems that used to exist – the leaky faucets, construction zones, faulty technologies… will have ceased to be problems. You ponder whether your favorite venues will still exist in the places and the state that you left them. Your life becomes a living game of Spot-the-Difference. Is this a new fixture? That wasn’t there before… Since when did The Apprentice start operating out of the White House?

Returning to my home campus, however, perplexed me by its stark absence of any evident change. I had disrupted routine and relocated to another country for an entire year, yet I was able to resume my former life as though the intervening months had never happened. Everything looked as it had looked. Everything proceeded as it had always done. Here I was, driving to school, parking in Foothill lot, walking down University drive. Here I was, sitting at a desk in Dwinelle Hall, logging into BCourses, signing up for Sections. Here I was, looking up at Sather Tower, buying prints at Bancroft library, paying my respects to the Last Dryad. It felt like I had traveled through time rather than space, and returned to exactly the same point in time that I’d left. Scotland began to feel more the dream it had been when I’d left; an alternate reality that had retracted.

If there was a lightning bolt moment that changed who I am as a person over the course of my time abroad, I probably won’t realize it until I’m older and looking back at the decisions I’ve made and what influenced them. Maybe I’ll pursue a PhD in a niche field of study and think, “This is because of that class that I took back in Scotland.” Or maybe I’ll go into politics and realize that my style of communication was inspired by the candid manner of Scottish Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Or maybe I’ll notice that I’ve developed a habit of eating ice cream exclusively in the snow, because it takes me back to the East Sands of St. Andrews, watching the sleet tumble in off the ocean like a spray of sea foam from a dark cloud that has merged with the sea.

I do know, however, that the last year has changed me. Setting aside the obvious differences in casual attire, my lifestyle in Scotland was a little different from the status quo in California. Perhaps the biggest difference was transitioning from a car culture to a car-free existence, and learning how to remain mobile. During my previous semester in London, I relied exclusively on the London Underground railway, aptly known as “The Tube”. Naturally this wasn’t available in Scotland, so I had to learn to navigate by foot, bus and rail, often relying on multiple systems of transport in a single journey. To get to Edinburgh, for example, required boarding a particular bus line going in the correct direction at the necessary hour to deliver me to the rail station in time for my train, and then finding the correct platform and boarding the appropriate carriage. Once I had managed all that, I had to be sure to get off at the right stop – an easy thing to neglect as you stare off into the scenery to the soundtrack of a favorite album, wholly oblivious to mundane considerations of stoplights and street-signs. And Edinburgh was a fairly simple objective; getting anywhere more elusive raised the stakes to another level.

The entire affair requires a fair degree of planning and coordination, and once I’d gotten the knack of it I felt no small degree of accomplishment. Realizing that I could get around without a vehicle was not only liberating; it raised my confidence and sense of capability. As we grow up, we gradually accustom ourselves to the routine of our culture, growing a little more able with each skill we acquire. But at some point, the learning curve tapers and we become so comfortable with routine that any deviation from it is daunting. We know what we’re good at, and giant leaps into the unknown are rarely one of them. So having to relearn something as basic as how to get from point A to point B when there’s no car parked five feet from the front door, waiting to conduct me directly to whatever distant doorstep I desire, was as intimidating as it was empowering.

4b magic and masonry

When I left for Scotland, excitement mingled with trepidation. I was realizing a goal I had been nurturing for eight years; I had been anxious to return to Scotland ever since I had departed it. Yet as the date of departure arrived I was deflated by an overpowering wave of guilt at the friends and family I was abandoning to pursue this dream, and the sacrifices that they were making to enable me. A heavy knot of foreboding settled in my chest, as I worried over what would transpire in my absence, while I was too far away to have any control or effect on situations unfolding. What was I letting go of? What would I be coming back to? The knot lingered for the first few months, as everyone adjusted to the change. Both my mother and my cats had episodes of ill health that I flailed frantically from across the globe to influence. Fortunately, the episodes passed and a new shade of equilibrium was restored. The knot slowly unraveled.

In 2009, it was about the point at which I had established this new equilibrium that I had to turn around and leave the terrain I was just finding my feet on. Three months is a torment; only long enough to get a handle on a new life and revert at the moment reintegration starts to represent a challenge. The year gave me ample time to settle into my new life, to exhilarate in it, and to miss what I’d left behind, without missing out on what I’d obtained. I felt satisfied, and ready to resume my old life and loved ones. Yet I still grieved for the world I’d be leaving behind. I also felt a certain anxiety about going back to a culture that had become a stranger to me; the president was elected while I was away, and the cultural landscape was becoming like a foreign country to the one that I had left. In some ways, Scotland felt more in line with the political climate that was familiar to me under the administration that had reigned during the eight years preceding my departure.

At some point, I became less lost in an exotic land, and more at home. The political climate, and universal healthcare, in particular, were alien to my experience on arrival. But as I came to understand the nuances of Scottish parliament, which I was fortunate to observe up-close during a critical snap election, and as I came to rely on the advantages of universal health care, these things came to be comprehensible and, in some ways, indispensable. These, along with the vastly more comprehensive and interconnected network of public transit, were perhaps the most critical differences to my country of origin. But I came to depend on them, and to see how the weaknesses of our own system might be improved by considering the efficacy of alternative methods.  Scottish government, healthcare, and transit all have their own issues, but by viewing the system as a sort of control experiment along side our own we can more easily perceive what is most and least effective, why, and how we might adapt the strengths of each approach to our mutual benefit.  This is, of course, one of the great advantages of travel; discovering the universal qualities of human kind as well as the unexpected disparities between cultures.  Just as different individuals can learn from each other while retaining their own distinctive flair, so nations can build toward a more functional society by drawing from the styles of each and making it their own.  Discovering new countries, like meeting new people, is always an exhilarating opportunity for discovery and growth.

4 spires

But if there’s one overarching lesson that I have taken away from this journey, it’s that I’m fortunate not to be British.  While I swim in an ecstasy of ancient castles, clock towers, cathedral spires and misty moors, the locals find only the mundane, and see just an ordinary world where I will always find magic.  It is impossible not to take for granted the air you breathe, the only landscape you’ve ever known.  And that is why exploration flips the lights on upstairs… makes us alive.  Within a matter of months, I began to grow accustomed to the rugged stone masonry, the corner pubs, the cobblestone streets, the distant sound of carillon bells and bagpipes…  But as my departure date approached, these aspects grew steadily more vibrant, as though someone were raising the dimmer switch behind the entire facade.  They became ephemeral again, and consequently their significance, and the pleasure I drew from them, grew in inverse-proportion to the time that remained.  As I watched the natives sulking past the scene with their heads down and eyes blind to the wonders surrounding, I knew the treasure of not belonging.  I stood and stared.  I struggled to memorize the dream before it faded.

On my last day at Berkeley, I sat for a four hour exam in Formal Logic. Eager to liberate myself, I evacuated the building before assessing the irritant of my bladder. I was passing Evans Hall when I realized it would be folly to commit myself to bay area traffic before addressing the situation, so I altered course, tracing a path I had walked many times in semesters of yore. Evans is your standard cinder-block structure, on the whole, with the sort of conventional American bathroom stalls that offend foreigners and nationals, equally, by the enormous gaps beneath the stall and the floor that admit every sound, smell, and prospective peeping Thomas. Thankfully, the less-trafficked upper story has a smaller facility that is less frequently used, as I’d learned when I’d sat for classes here, years earlier.

I sauntered up the curling sidewalk, broached the double doors, bypassed the elevators, and took two sharp lefts down a dim, L-shaped hallway, envisioning the faded pair of blue stalls across a worn tile floor, and flanked by a row of dilapidated sinks with paint cracked and flaking. But suddenly, I was someplace else. In front of me was a brightly-lit, contemporary black counter-top with a series of embedded sinks with shining chrome faucets, each with tiny digital screens above their automated spouts. Beyond was a corridor of toilet stalls, their latching doors nearly as flush to the floor as the solid walls between them. These would qualify as proper Wash Closets – European style!

My ablutions concluded, I exited the anomaly into an utterly unaltered foyer, business carrying on there just as it always had, oblivious to the incongruously ornate and inexplicably exotic phenomenon of construction nestled conspiratorially behind a deeply unassuming wall. I do not know what quirk of administrative financing funneled money into an obscure restroom on the extreme edge of campus, but I thank whatever absurd fairy of architecture manifested it in that unsuspecting space. At least now I know I’ve been away, and from that I can rest assured: Scotland really happened.

5 conclusion

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A Fine Line

The conclusion of my first semester in Wrocław has brought a number of mixed emotions, ups and downs, and reoccurring themes. Of these topics and themes that come up in casual conversation, one in particular continually emerges between my friends and I. As a political science student at home and in Poland, political debates are not uncommon in either class or casual gatherings and it never takes long for the conversation to transition into a comparison between nations. Though there are always good natured jokes between my peers of various national origins and serious debates there are, inevitably, disagreements. At the end of these conversations, it is always easy to see that there is a vast difference in the way that each participant views not only the perspectives of their peers, but also their own nations.

As an American, I had never before questioned the commonplace of the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in high school, the playing of the National Anthem before any given sporting event, or even the presence of military personnel during Independence Day celebrations. Each of these is a norm, especially in my rural Nebraska hometown. Having grown up with these norms, it’s hard to imagine life without them and even more of a shock when I hear the way that this is perceived from the outside looking in. What many of my peers and I at home view simply as pride and patriotism is more often than not described as “nationalism” by my friends abroad. Admittedly, I was at first enraged to be labeled as an “American nationalist” due simply to the fact that a fine line exists for me between the concepts of patriotism and nationalism. While I view the former as a love for one’s country and the principles that it represents, I tend to see the latter as an extremist position that supports a “holier than thou” perspective that refuses to acknowledge anything other than one’s own national superiority. Patriotism for me, then, boiled down to accepting new ideas and tolerance and having pride when these principles prevail in the society that one calls home. Nationalism, on the other hand, seeks to further a sense of superiority in a subjective and exclusive way. Having this as my operating definition of this dichotomy between the two terms fueled my annoyance with the “nationalist” brand that had been given to me and required me to take a step back and try to understand the difference in perspective.

Searching for context to understand the viewpoints of my Polish and other European friends, however, made me take the aforementioned American norms and look at them through a new lens. While for me these actions would fall under my definition of patriotism, I had also to consider the fact that I was now on a continent where what I would classify as patriotism had not once, but twice, given way to global conflict under the guise of patriotic duty. In Poland, you will rarely see a national flag flying somewhere other than a government building and outward criticism of the status quo and establishment is not uncommon. Discussing this issue with my roommate, a Polish law student, also shed some light on the contextual differences that supported our separate definitions of the two terms. In November, Polish Independence Day occurred and my roommate had off handedly mentioned that it was one of her least favorite holidays. This was a small shock to me, as U.S. Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays back home. After some time, she explained that in Poland this day was often hijacked by nationalists and, more than once, people from different countries were made targets for little more than speaking a language other than Polish too near to a demonstration. This year, more than 60,000 nationalists marched in Warsaw with anti-Semitic and racist undertones under the guise of a patriotic celebration with many on edge as the potential for violence grew. Between conversations with my roommate and events such as this, it became easier to understand why patriotic norms at home may be viewed in a different context here in Poland.

It also became apparent at this point that this only represented a Polish perspective. I am studying alongside individuals from dozens of different countries and for each of them, myself included, different significance is given to various norms and it becomes incredibly complicated to see all events through the eyes of one another. Although it’s difficult, however, it doesn’t mean that hope should be abandoned. The purpose of programs such as study abroad is to help bridge these gaps and understand the way that historical context and education can be used to rid ourselves of stereotypes and dichotic labels such as “patriot” and “nationalist.” In Poland, there is much history to take into consideration. The catastrophe of WWII and the transition to a Soviet dominated society thereafter will forever hold contextual significances on this issue that many may overlook. It is here that nationalist viewpoints devastated a society for decades and the consequences of extremism are still being felt as Poland marches forward into new and uncharted territory. With this in mind, I now take the “patriot” versus “nationalist” debate with a grain of salt when it arises and though I stand by the norms at home, I now have a better grasp on their perception abroad.

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The End of a Beginning: Returning Home


Sitting at home with my dog on my lap watching snow gently fall and blanket the trees and the ground listening to the peaceful hush of silence in the Montana woods, I can hardly believe that roughly a week ago I was in St. Petersburg, Russia. My mind can barely process the fact that a week ago my life consisted of eating macaroni with meat cutlet, riding the metro, and hoping to god that I would be intelligible when trying to buy bread from the supermarket.

People ask me for crazy stories, and I have my highlights prepared. Yeah, that time I took a gypsy cab at 4am home where the only common language denominator was a “little bit of Russian.” Or eating raw fish with onions with my hands. Or pretending to be a glue monster in acting class.

But my Russian experience was so much more than a crazy story. It was frustrating, beautiful, challenging, rewarding, energizing, exciting… (you can keep inserting your own superlatives here). I met friends that I hope are for life. I had some of the wildest and most interesting discussions. I went through periods of intense boredom or, in contrast, also being so overwhelmed I’d leave and go cry quietly to myself.

There’s a lot of things I want to take back with me from my time in Russia. I love the tradition of wearing tapochki (slippers) at home and always have cookies on the table and tea ready to go. I like the idea that before a long journey you sit and meditate. I love how real Russians are—how they smile when they really mean it, say things as they are without sandwiching it in “pleasant platitudes,” and how small talk is almost nonexistent. I love how much people love and honor art and their culture. I admire and respect the strength of the Russian people who have endured so much.

I will admit that on both sides of the spectrum it’s been difficult navigating the difficult, multi-faceted relationship between Russia and America. While in Russia, I was exposed to some very controversial opinions and beliefs that were at times very challenging to hear but I cannot stress enough how much I learned about the power of just objective listening and trying to reach an understanding of where and how these beliefs come to be. Coming back to America, it’s been a challenge to explain what I’ve learned and come to understand about the Russian perspective, but it’s a challenge I rise to because I believe it’s so important to extend my study abroad beyond me and use my perspective to bring deeper understanding.

People ask me if I miss it or if I’m happy to be home, and in a way it’s both. I miss the bustling streets of Peter, and I’m happy to be skiing through the trees of Montana. The other day while shrugging ourselves into gear in the ski locker-room my friend commented that she noticed I was watching my bags very carefully—something I never did before as my small town life consisted mostly of friendly strangers (who probably turn out to be friends-of-friends anyway) returning your wallet if you dropped it.

In a way this seemingly innocent question prompted almost existential thought: Have I become unreasonably fearful? Have I lost trust in the world?

But in a way, I suppose, thinking deeper, travel hasn’t made me more fearful, it’s only made me more confident, more open-minded, and more trusting in my own abilities and capabilities. There is no way that I can describe to someone what it’s truly like to be in a phone store trying to figure out what’s wrong with your SIM card with minimal Russian and a very confused shopkeeper who thinks you’re trying to buy a new phone not fix the old. I trust myself and I trust the world because, yes, in the end my SIM card was, somehow, fixed. I trust myself because at the end of every crazy story there’s a happy ending—I survived, I learned, I gained confidence.

And I think that’s what I miss the most about Russia. I miss the challenge, the unpredictability, the feeling as though my life was a giant improvisation game where I was only given half the rules. I learned about myself that I don’t need to fear immense change because not only can I survive, but I thrive on it. I am happiest when I am experiencing the challenges of somewhere new and different, and I am so thankful to my incredible study abroad experience for giving me the confidence to pursue that happiness wherever in the world it might take me.


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4 Weeks That Will Last A Lifetime

To the town, the hospital, the doctors, the other fellows, the country, the Gilman Scholarship; thank you. I truly was “forever touched” by my experience, the people I met, the knowledge that I gained, and the places I visited.  I will carry this with me throughout my entire life.

On my trip to Spain in summer 2017 to shadow medical doctors in a hospital, I gained a sense of self-awareness as well as cultural appreciation. I was humbled and forced to recognize that my view of the world and health and healthcare is only as wide as my experiences. It was easy for me, at first, to compare what I was used to seeing and doing in the United States to what was done in Spain, but it didn’t help anyone to compare what was in Spain to what I was used to. I decided to pay attention to how things were done in Spain and to learn about their culture and way of life. I learned not to compare and judge, but to investigate and appreciate the culture I was in, and by doing so, I gained a tolerance of difference as well.

I moved around through the medical specialties at the hospital and was able to see much more than expected. I shadowed in neurology, gynecology and obstetrics, pediatrics, and hospital pharmacy. The shadowing experience at the hospital was extremely impactful. I was able to see multiple surgeries and operations, simple check-ups and consultations, as well as the research and investigating performed by the doctors. The information that I learned from the doctors and everything that I was able to see in the hospital has helped me to better understand patient-doctor interactions, medical professions, discussing the pros and cons of government-run healthcare, describing how a hospital works, and aided me in determining the areas of medicine I am, and am not, interested in pursuing. Every doctor there impacted me in one way or another, and a handful made lasting impressions. I am thankful for all of the doctors that took the time to stop and explain to me exactly what they were doing and why it was being done. This made my shadowing experience worthwhile and helped me to better understand and gain more knowledge in that area.

As an individual who is not wholly in tune with how a hospital works, I was lucky to find doctors across departments very happy to be joined by an American intern. The opportunity to spend such long, uninterrupted time in the hospital allowed me to gain insight into the progression of hospital life. The physicians and staff all demonstrated the vital components of a physician’s mental toolbox. I learned that ability and medical knowledge alone do not fully heal a patient. Rather, character, compassion, and understanding are what separate good doctors from great ones. Talking with these professionals about their own life decisions helped me firmly evaluate my own desires to pursue my M.D. degree, setting me onto the path that I am still continuing to walk.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer while I was abroad as well. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I spent 1 hour tutoring the doctors in their English. This was rewarding as well as educational because I got to learn more about the Spanish culture, way of life, and political policies compared to the United States when speaking one-on-one with the doctors about these specific topics. I gained a better understanding of the Spanish language as well. It was nice to be able to give my time back to help the doctors as they were spending a lot of their time teaching us students about their jobs and duties in their positions at the hospital while we shadowed them.

While in Spain, I was exposed to the European Healthcare System. The major difference between the healthcare system in Spain compared to that of the United States is that Spain’s healthcare is government-run. Citizens of Spain have access to free state Spanish healthcare, paid partly by social security payments, which is deducted from wage. Through experiencing these differences between U.S. and international healthcare, I am now able to distinguish the areas of overlap in these healthcare systems, clarifying the essential elements of medicine and the physician’s role. Since I was placed at a government-run hospital, I saw firsthand the pros and cons of government-run healthcare and now feel prepared to participate effectively in the debate surrounding the role of government in U.S. healthcare.

The friendships that I made with the other fellows on the trip I anticipate to become lifelong. We spent endless days exploring beautiful Spain and making the best stories from the nights out on the town together.  The trip would not have been the same without them. We were already planning trips to visit each other across the United States over the years.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the small town of Alcázar de San Juan. It was a perfect place of stay for my 4 weeks in Spain. Although it did not always have the excitement of a big city, I never felt unsafe wandering the town on my own, or walking home late. The people were friendly and welcoming. From the restaurant owners, to the hotel staff, the doctors, and the townspeople – everyone was inviting and seemed happy to have us in their town. The small-town experience also allowed the interaction with the Spanish culture to be more authentic. The restaurants in Alcázar served authentic Spanish dishes and hardly anyone in the town spoke any English – they do not get many American tourists coming through their rural area. When I think of Spain now, I do not think of the Royal Palace or the beaches of Valencia, I think of the people there. I think of the other fellows who grabbed tapas with me and strolled along the streets of Madrid, the doctors who invited me into their home for dinner, and the people in Alcázar de San Juan that quickly turned into friends.

This experience gave me exposure to multiple themes associated with modern medicine. Compassion, global health, and the importance of a patient-centered workplace are all concepts that can be directly experienced while on hospital rounds. The lessons learned about such topics are directly applicable to questions I may be asked throughout the medical school application process. The social components I encountered in the hospital of Alcázar de San Juan have led to me embracing this medical journey. Moreover, the chance to shadow physicians of multiple specialties, from multiple nationalities, and operating under a different healthcare system served to truly enhance my view of medicine.

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A Reflection on My Russian Adventure



When I think back to my first memory of the first-week study abroad, it seems like a distant memory. I took a video of myself recording my first impressions, and the then me that is pictured seems shinier and fresher. It seems silly and cliché to say “oh I was so innocent back then” especially given that it was only four months ago, but there was so much I hadn’t experienced. It was a me who looked upon the world with a renewed sense of childlike awe where everything was “new” and “amazing” and “wow.”. Now I look at the world a little more weather-beaten with less “awe” and more of a feeling of stability. I can survive everyday life in Russia (& I suppose that in itself is its own wow).

I think I set impossible goals for myself at first. I wanted to visit every corner of Russia. I wanted to go to every museum, every estate, see every concert, hang out with only Russians… I wanted to be fluent in Russian when I finished. So I guess if I think about my goals in that large sense, no I didn’t really accomplish all of them as in I didn’t do everything but I did do a lot.

In Russian, I might not know a lot of words + still make stupid grammar mistakes but I can still have meaningful conversations about things that are important to me. Travel-wise, I’ve happily strolled through the grounds of almost every suburb of St. Petersburg—Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Kronshtadt, Pushkin… In Russia, I’ve also been to Moscow, Pskov, and Vyborg. Outside of Russia, I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to visit Estonia, Ukraine, and Hungary (with a tiny stop in Latvia). I’ve been to so many awe-inspiring concerts. I’ve seen works of art that have taken my breath away. Even though I didn’t hang out with only Russians, I still made friends in Russian and even tried dating.

I might not have accomplished everything (probably not even possible) but I still feel proud when I list everything and realize that yes, I’m very happy and satisfied with my Russian experience.

Personally, the biggest way I’ve changed personally is that I’ve become more comfortable being myself and making mistakes. From the very first day when I almost got shafted by a taxi cab driver in Moscow after making a wrong turn coming out to improvising being a glue monster in acting class to making a fool of myself in everyday encounters when I don’t know the words, I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. I think every mistake has strengthened me a lot as a person. I have confidence in myself to know that I can survive a very embarrassing experience and come out and still be me.

I’m a firm believer that 50% of language fluency is confidence and flexibility. I think it’s easy to get down on yourself for your stupid mistakes or in a classroom setting to feel like you’re behind your peers, but the classroom is such an isolated environment. In the real world, it is highly likely that your phone will break and you’ll have to go explain yourself and what happened to the phone store. This isn’t something you can study for. You’ll likely not have all the words you need. Things are unpredictable, but I’ve found it very exciting and reaffirming to find out that yes, I do know more than I think I do and I can make my ideas intelligible. I just have to believe in myself and not be afraid of experimenting.

Thus, in conclusion, my Russia experience has been a wild ride of missed bus stops, beautiful concerts, being confused like crazy, and pushing myself out of my shell. As a person, I don’t think I’ve become anything new. I’ve been exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking, but I am still me and every experience helps me to become myself even more.

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Something to Celebrate

After arriving in Poland, there have been many times that the differences between home and Wrocław have been stark, particularly when it comes to holidays and traditions. Spending a birthday away from my family and friends wasn’t a new experience, after all, being a college student means balancing these important occasions with those who are important to you and making the best of the situation when you can’t. What is difficult, though, is spending holidays that are traditionally family based so far from home. As November approached, I’d put little thought into celebrating Thanksgiving. For me, like most Americans, this was a Thursday filled with family, food, and conversation that could carry on for hours, but in Wrocław I was quickly reminded that this holiday was one that wouldn’t follow me to Poland like so many other traditions. Even with this in mind, being abroad is about improvising and learning to make the best of your time and as always, having a few close friends to surround yourself with never hurts! This was the spirit that would lead me to an apartment full of my new international friends and a potluck style dinner that brought each of us a little closer to one another.

As November came to a close and the days got shorter, rainy days became more common, and Christmas drew nearer I was counting the days until my family would visit me for an early holiday celebration. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Christmas season (I’m more of the Independence Day type), but the thought of spending some time with my family in one of the largest holiday markets in Europe definitely had its appeal. Upon their arrival, my family went through the various phases of jetlag that would be familiar to anyone who made the long trek across the Atlantic, but after a bit of Polish cuisine, a short walk to stretch our legs, and turning in a bit early the remainder of the trip proved a success. Admittedly, my love of the holiday season has grown since arriving in Poland. This isn’t simply because it meant getting to see my family and recreating the comfort of home, but also because I got to watch as the different spheres of my life merged in a fashion that many never witness. Introducing my family to my friends in Poland was not only exciting, but marked the beginning of new connections, conversations, and shared experiences that I could never have imagined.


Now, as the holiday season has drawn to a close, my family has returned home, and some of my closest friends prepare to end their experiences in Poland and return home I realized that there is a lot of truth the cliché that life is about who you spend it with and your perception of that experience rather than being in a specific location or following an uncompromising list of holiday norms. No, I’m not just saying this to justify my preference for fireworks on a warm July evening in lieu of the bitter cold of Christmastime, but rather because of the fact that I’ve learned to celebrate more than just the commonly observed days marked on our calendars. This season, I celebrated my new friendships and the long awaited visit from my family, but I also celebrated countless nights of learning my host city and making new acquaintances. I celebrated taking a new set of courses with ideas I would never have been previously exposed to and also foods I would never have tried at home. The holidays may be over, but the same cannot be said for my time in Poland. As I prepare to take on a new year, a new semester, and numerous new adventures an ocean away from home I remind myself that everyday is something to celebrate.

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How My Study Abroad Still Resonates in My Life

Study abroad is unique in that you can mold it into anything you want. Depending on your academic and professional background you can create the most spectacular program to promote your goals. Because of this mentality, I am very happy and proud of my experiences abroad, consequently, I am very thankful for the Gilman Scholarship for making this happen.

My goal is to work in global health specifically in the Middle East. I hope to work with an NGO such as World Health Organization (WHO) or United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). With this idea, I knew I had to be exposed to the culture, language, and many issues faced by millions in the Middle East. I took all these goals and turned them into accomplishments while abroad. I lived fifteen miles from the Syrian border, which was filled with both Syrian and Palestinian refugees. This allowed me to immerse in their culture and the native Jordanian culture. I became friends with everyone, learned how to haggle at the local markets, and found all the best places to eat and hang out. Ultimately, I felt like a local.


With this exposure, it really helped me practice my Arabic. Especially because many different dialects were spoken. This allowed me to speak with everyone and understand daily issues many faced in underserved areas around the country. Might it have been from fleeing war, persecution, or simply having a lack of access to health care. I listened and learned.

These newly acquired skills then allowed me to work in underserved communities all-round the Kingdom of Jordan. Since I lived in an area with a high concentration of refugees and underserved communities, there were many NGO’s from all over the globe coming into the country. Literally over 20 NGO’s within a block radius of where I lived. I instantly visited each one handing over my resume until a few reached out with positions open for me.

This landed me as a translator for foreign physicians. I would travel across the country to refugee camps and free clinics translating for a variety of specialties. I would later teach preventative medicine to local refugees in the city. These experiences have truly concreted my desire to pursue a life in global health. In addition, it has allowed me to make connections with everyone I met, all prepared to make me part of their teams.



I hope after reading this you understand that study abroad can play an essential role in your life. It can help pave the way to your dream career. I am not saying that you will not have fun because I made sure I did. Just make sure to take full advantage of your situation because you may never get another chance. As I am approaching the start of graduate school, I am so happy to be a Gilman Alumnus filled with experiences abroad. Many people are amazed and fascinated by my experience. This, of course, has given me a completive edge in my applications, making me a very unique applicant. But more importantly, it has made me a global citizen, an essential characteristic of the future leader I strive to be.




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