I have always wanted to put my thoughts and feelings about global health into words and share them with others but never found the courage to. These reservations are probably due to a discomfort and a lack of confidence in my writing for effectively portraying my ideas in a succinct and eloquent manner, and also thinking that I don’t have anything important to share – which both still holds true very likely. As scary and intimidating as writing this journal may seem, I think it will provide a good learning opportunity making them even more exciting and equally nerve wracking to pursue – at least that’s what I tell myself when faced with intimidating tasks. I’d like to start off by providing a fair warning that my thoughts and reflections here will likely be a bit messy but will be an authentic reflection of my current thoughts, and hopefully I can articulate that in writing.
So why am I doing this now? With my transition out of undergraduate studies and into an exciting new experience as an intern at the World Health Organization (WHO) for two months, I feel compelled to document my thoughts as complex and messy as they may seem in my head, onto paper or technically these pixels that make up words on the digital screen before you.
I will be spending the next two months in Geneva, Switzerland as an intern in the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (PND) at the WHO. It would sound strange to say that it was a difficult decision to choose this path even after strongly wanting to intern and do something interesting the summer after graduating, but it was. In short, it comes down to time and money. As the experience will be an expensive one, one that not many have the means to attend and afford. And it would also take up time that I could spend with friends, family, working, relaxing, etc. I definitely acknowledge this opportunity as one that is particularly privileged for these very reasons.
I am writing these thoughts down to share with you my experiences, my thoughts, and feelings about the opportunity I will embark on soon. I am hopeful that this experience will broaden my perspectives and provide a fruitful learning environment. And that these updates will too provide a valuable snapshot of my learning and observations for others to ponder, regardless of our different paths.
I know documenting will be a particularly valuable exercise for myself as a learner to grow. But this also serves as some insight and a snapshot into my life for my colleagues, mentors, friends, and family. So please don’t hesitate to ask questions or share your thoughts with me about anything.
So what brought me here? And where is here? I’m interested in health, particularly the health of populations, and also inequity, which is also intimately linked to social conditions. But where I am is actually not all that clear to me. I know that I have many different interests and I’m spending time doing things that intrigue me and I seek to continue to challenge myself in opportunities that often raises more questions about these interests. I often find myself in a place with more questions than answers.
Going back to what brought me here…. I believe it was a lot of chance, a few somewhat important decisions here and there, incredible mentors, supportive friends and family, and more serendipity. And I say chance because of the opportunities and privileges I’ve had are a result of things that I couldn’t control, but benefit me, like my upbringing in Canada and being born into a family with supportive hardworking immigrant parents that strongly value education, etc. etc. I also know that I’m a very indecisive person from small to big decisions alike. From a last minute decision of my undergraduate program to what I would choose to involve myself in soon after didn’t come easily. I like to think that if I chose another path that I would still have found an area of work that suits me and that I really enjoy; but it’s hard to say.
What I do know is that soon after my first year of undergraduate studies, in health sciences, I gained a drive and desire to learn more about health inequities. I found my footing in global health, although the field itself and its definition is not all that clear, but I suppose my understanding and what interests me about this field of study and work is simply the concept of health inequity and asking questions about why things are the way they are and how do we work collectively to address them. I exposed myself to the field by working in population level epidemiological research and learning about indigenous health and community based work and research. I think and strongly believe that I have found myself in this position and path because I’m interested a simple but also at the same time enormously complex concept of inequity. It’s something that makes me incredibly frustrated and angry and often leaves me confused and defeated – possibly reinforcing my motivation and drive for learning more. I’m sure you’ve heard “do what makes you happy”, it’s like that, but rather figure out what lights a fire in you to learn more about something and to do something about it, and go in the direction of that field.
Something that has likely significantly impacted my trajectory would be my parents, but for possibly unexpected reasons. They are supportive but stern at times, caring but quite honest, open minded but also quite hard headed sometimes. My dad grew up in a very rural part of China and simply put, education was the only means out for him to build a better life for himself and his family. His stories of his childhood, his growing up, and his mentality towards education along with my mom’s perspective on happiness and positivity are quite inspirational and impactful on the person and character that I am today.
Having graduated from my undergrad last month I can’t help but think of what closing this chapter in my life means. If I only take one lesson from my studies it would be to think critically and ask questions. But I guess another would be that group work is pretty hard. But somewhere in there is also the lesson of reflection and self awareness. I believe that I do a lot of thinking and reflection and to translate it onto paper is almost therapeutic, yet another reason why I feel like I should be writing this. It’s hard to think four years of school went by that quickly, but I don’t think time will slow down. So many things are seemingly changing in everyone’s lives, or maybe I am just noticing the changes more, and just have to adapt and grow; reminding yourself what you’re passionate about and that it’s okay if it adapts and changes too.
When I think of my dad’s upbringing and my not so distant relatives that aren’t afforded the same privileges and opportunities as I have, ‘just different lives is all’ is what I tell myself. Sometimes I struggle with the concept that I live an incredibly different life with different opportunities from close cousins and relatives. Every time I visit China, I am reminded of the privilege and naivety that I grew up with being in Canada. It is with this different upbringing that has possibly brought me to my ideologies of what at this moment I want to spend my time and efforts in, and what I value. Speaking strictly academically, I value my growth in terms of skills and knowledge in the field of global and public health. A path motivated by a desire for understanding health and social inequities that exist at home and globally.
I find myself facing seemingly different worlds of understanding and approaches to life and careers. Generalizing… In passing conversations with peers and friends, there is often a mutual feeling of uncertainty but optimism and drive to pursue a unique passion or to ponder new questions. While on the other hand, I find myself struggling to put into words and provide a deeper appreciation of my interests to my family members, although it’s probably linked to my poor Chinese abilities. However in speaking with my relatives in China, there is a traditional mindset of finding a job to provide for a current and future family and self.
Why specifically do I want to do this? As someone who is interested in global health, which hopefully came across in the past paragraphs, I want to see it for myself and absorb what the organization is like functioning and performing. A leader in global health research and policy recommendations, thus the exposure is something I want to be immersed in.
I am very thankful to have financial support from the Thinkswiss research scholarship. I have the pleasure of writing a blog post for Thinkswiss, which serves as yet another reason to push me to write this journal. I am also thankful for the many other individuals that have helped me in countless different ways.
This probably seemed like a lot of rambling, so thank you for making it this far. I ensure you that future updates will not be this long-winded and messy. And as I mentioned above, please share your thoughts, ideas, or updates with me as well, I’d love to hear them.