Tuesday, July 17

Ghana: McNair Scholar Across the Pond

Hello Fellow Scholars!

I wanted to take a break today from writing on my own blog, and give you all a little sharing of my experiences and how they seem to be relating to what I want to do with my life after CMU.

This is Kojo - Which means born on Monday
So, to give some background I'll start with why I signed up for a trip to Ghana in the first place. As a student, I study biomedical science, which is pretty much as bench laboratory science as you can get. I have spent many hours (including my McNair summer research) working in a lab with fruit flies and test tubes, and lots of small calculations and figuring. That research was fine and dandy, but I guess deep down I really wanted to do something more with people. I have spent a long time focusing on Global Health in my spare time, which has really consumed my interested and steered my individual research from my bench-science focus to really a broader healthcare-focused work. I've been searching for months on where I want to put myself as a scholar in the future. Its simply been a toss up between medicine and graduate school, and through McNair I was guided toward combining the two. My MCAT got the best of me, and took that off the table, at least as an immediate applicant, so it was time to turn a cheek. That time came just as I was leaving for this trip.

These children were just on the street, and they loved us.
This trip focuses on International Nutrition. Nutrition is not even close to my major, but is pivotal when discussing global health, and therefore lies within my interests. I met the professor for this trip, Dr. Francis Tayie, and we spoke about my interests. He was excited that I was willing to go on the trip, even if it did not count toward my major. He was pumped about my enthusiasm. Anyway, at first it was not necessarily going to happen since there were financial difficulties and a lot to plan beforehand, but my Will provided and here I am.

This little boy's name is John! 
This trip for me has been an experience of a lifetime.  I have gained so much knowledge in Ghanaian culture it is ridiculous. I have also gained an important insight into the public health situations here, and it really makes you think about developing nations around the world, and how their healthcare systems are so different from our own.

I recently published a post on my own blog about the comparison between Ghanaian hospital care and US hospital care, so I will not restate it all, but I will give some highlights:

The statue is Cecily Williams, she pretty much invented
nutrition medicine for undernourished children.
Ghanaian hospitals are set up on a cash and carry system, meaning that a patient must pay separately and that day for every aspect of their treatment, from medicines (even those used in wards for overnight stays) to labs (yes, even getting simple blood draws), even down to the cost of checkin, which by the way is 7 GHC (about $3.50 USD) at the hospital I was checked into for a mild case of malaria. Don't worry, I'm fine, malaria isn't really that bad, but it will be something I can look forward to sharing my experience with!

The Whole group and the teachers at Bright Lillies
preschool in Accra, Ghana
Anyway, the experience of looking at the conditions of the hospitals here, both the one I went to for my own health called Lapaz, and the one I went to for our class called Princess Marie Louise Children's Hospital, have opened my eyes to show me even more why a career in public health, focusing on global perspectives is one I should pursue. I am excited to continue my trip and then really reflect upon these experiences in choosing where and how to apply this fall.

I hope everyone is having a great summer, and I hope you all take advantage of the McNair program. Things can change rapidly before, during, and after, but overall, you have the world at your feet and amazing people to teach you how to walk. Enjoy it, and let's keep in touch! 

Living for now,
Justin Mendoza
McNair Scholars 2011

Monday, July 16

The Feeling Is Relative

Hey all this blog is just a reflection of my experiences so far while doing my research in Madison. It's been a very enlightening and wonderful summer for me and these are my thoughts on it all. I hope that it helps you all gain some perspective and understanding. I also think we should all take the time to do this. It's extremely helpful :-) hope you enjoy
I posted a question on my facebook status this past week asking about a 1000 of my closest friends this question. “ How do you want to feel about your life?”  It’s a pretty simple question, not asking too much of an individual. I got it from an audio book that Lynn lent me, called The Fire Starter Sessions That by Danielle LaPorte. (I suggest you check it out if you can) It was while listening to this book that I realized that I’ve never really been asked how I want to feel about my life. I’ve been countlessly questioned about what I want to do, where I want to be , and the type of person I want to be.  But never once has anyone bothered to ask what I wanted to feel about my life.  Because of this I realized that I had no idea. I couldn’t answer the question. I could easily recite my elevator speech that would easily address the first three but literally had no idea how to address how I wanted to feel about it all.
Through McNair I have very much become sure of my future. I have defined my research interests. I’ve gotten a taste of what life at grad school will be like. I can actually see my PhD in my hand.  I am happy with my answers. In fact I am sure of them. But there is no doubt that something is missing. I know! That sounds crazy. I mean I have everything that any hopelessly lost but hard driven undergrad would want, more even. Obviously I understand that being so young  I am not supposed to have all the answers. It is normal for me to feel this clueless and have no idea why I can’t seem to be satisfied with my circumstances.  So after a week of reflection and examining the feedback of my much appreciated facebook friends I realized exactly how I want to feel about my life.
1.          I want to feel alive. Though I am living, I have actually not been living my life. I have not experienced anything new, bold or outside comfort zone. Which is why I decided to come to UW-Madison for my summer research. Being here I have become more enlightened, both in my research and general life. The fresh new environment is exactly what I needed to add some spice to  my bland living. Everyday has been a new experience, from navigating my own way to realizing that yes I am now an adult . But also realizing that in being an adult how I start living  now is exactly how the rest of my life is going to be. As such, I want to spend everyday of my adult life being excited. Meanwhile understanding that whatever my choice of higher education, whether it's Madison or not, the important factoid to remember is to actually live my life and enjoy it.
2.                I don’t want to settle. I believe it was the infamous Don Asher who said fit and match equals admission. Through all the GREing and personal statements, I have come to find that nothing is truer than this statement.  I have come to realize that being selective in every aspect of my life is what will bring me the most fruitful opportunities. For me it is no longer just about saying yes to make someone else happy because I see no other doors. It is about having faith, believing in myself, and realizing that to be at my best I have to choose what I feel is best. I have to decide what will make me happy and with every part of me go for it.
3.                I want to be influential. My definition of influential does not just encompass social change or advocacy. Instead it includes the small stuff. The little things that go unnoticed but seem to make the greatest difference. Doing this is what makes me happiest. The warm smiles I give to light up one person. Taking the time to be a listening ear. Saying thank you more often than not and all the other cheesy clich├ęs of kindness we so often forget about. I want to recognize the little battles, the every day struggles that we face. After all it is the small steps we take that help make those big ones happen.
I’m not sure if doing this will help figure everything out.  But I am certain it’s a start. Embracing these experiences and realizing that in anything I want, whether it’s getting into graduate school, falling love, or getting that perfect job, I need to realize how I want to feel about it all. Truly taking the time to see why what I am are doing is important. I suggest the same for my fellow scholars not just to find answers, but to bring clarity and perspective especially during these most critical times of our lives.