Let’s Get Personal | What’s Your Story?

I attended a Primary Care Progress Leadership Summit at my school yesterday. The purpose was to advocate for the benefits of team-based care in the primary care field and cultivate this team culture through intentional story-telling and coaching. The story-telling exercise was the most powerful part because it got to the root of: what’s your purpose? why are you here?

In my single-parent household, education was a prevailing value growing up. My mother didn’t want my life to be like hers. However, as a first-generation college student, she was not able to provide very much guidance, especially past high school. I really had no idea what the “real world” looked like. I just knew how to pass all my classes and that I had a particular interest in science – until the summer after my junior year in high school when I was gratefully accepted to attend a four-week MD Camp at OSU College of Medicine. We were treated like first-year medical students: meeting professors of medicine, shadowing an infectious disease doctor, experiencing the cadaver lab, taking a comprehensive test, and receiving a white coat. This opened my eyes to a career in medicine and lit a spark in me that I can do this. So this became my goal all throughout college as I pursued a degree in Neuroscience at The Ohio State University. It was a smooth journey until the MCAT, which made me question whether I was cut for the career or not. During the summer after my junior year when I was studying for the standardized exam, I spontaneously reconnected with an old friend from elementary school who was also on the medical path. That summer, we made a routine out of running together most summer afternoons – this was my solace from studying. I had no idea that our rekindled friendship would change my outlook on life forever. My friend was a true free spirit – he always said what was on his mind without caring what other people thought. That was the complete opposite of me. I have always been a reserved person and it took me a while before I can completely open up to others. His energy was so contagious that I caught it. I slowly fostered this free-spirited nature and that was the first time in my life I truly felt alive. I started thinking about the impermanence of life and how we should strive to feel more alive. This then made me ponder the meaning of life, which is partly why I started my blog. Among many nuances, the meaning of life for me is building authentic relationships and connecting with others on a deeper level. When we are on our death bed, I doubt we’d think about whether we could have made $50,000 more or if we should have bought a Lamborghini. We are going to think about people – regrets, shared experiences, joyous times. When I’m lying on my death bed, I hope I remember more good times than regrets, which is why I am making a more conscious awareness in my daily life to be more authentic with others to build a deeper connection. You never know the magic that can arise when you open yourself up to another human being. Fast forward to medical school. I had to overcome some hurdles with the MCAT, but in the end successfully completed the leg of the race and am now in my first year. People go into medicine for a variety of reasons ranging from: family influences, money, prestige, wanting to help people, research, service. Some of these reasons provide more lasting inspiration than others. My reason that I want to continually cultivate is building that deeper relationship with patients so that I can explore how their meaning in life affects disease and vice versa. Patients are more than just their disease state. We should seek to understand their robust life outside of the 15-minute office visit. This sense of shared humanity motivates me.

Caveat to this idealistic approach of being more vulnerable, authentic, and honest (from feedback and personal experience): people might not reciprocate and value these same qualities. One of my friends expressed that he would rather not live life this way because you are handing people bits of information about yourself that they can use against you. You weaken your defenses if you show people how you think and who you are. From personal experience, I was taken advantage of because I was too honest. I knew this person for many years and we practically knew each other inside out (except for the things he hid from me this past year). Being honest and open is my way of showing that I deeply care for someone and their well-being. I’m still struggling with this concept because I don’t believe in playing games in life for it is impermanent – say how you feel and do what’s right. Don’t hurt others in the process. In conclusion, it’s wise to use your judicious decision on who you want to be vulnerable with and what parts of yourself you want to share. I’m not a big fan of superficial conversations and the proverbial “good” reply to “how are you?” and this is a way to overcome that.

Extra note on love and life: While thinking about the meaning of life, obviously love comes to my mind. I am a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. I get teary-eyed at least once in movies and books because the relationships between the characters always pull at my heart strings. I just dangerously subscribed to a YouTube channel that’s focused on creating professional wedding videos and sharing love stories – you can already guess I cry during every single video. Upon reflection, I should have had more independent time instead of stringing the other person along and being strung along. I encourage every early to mid 2o-year-old to spend at least a few months completely single – free of any kind of emotional or physical intimate relations. Society makes us believe that being alone should be one of our biggest fears, that being half-loved by someone is better than not having them at all. With the world at our fingertips now, dating apps make it that much easier to replace person after person without ever being lonely. I don’t think this is healthy. One of my friends argue that we all need to feel validated by someone and that you often can’t overcome heartbreak without seeking intimacy with another person. Yes, it’s a nice feeling to be cared for and it might be the easiest way to mask your hurt, but why can’t you validate yourself? Being truly single for a month now, I have learned to respect myself and give myself the time and space to self-improve. You shouldn’t invest yourself in someone who can only give you 99% or less of their heart. I’ve had a skewed image of what a loving relationship should feel and look like, but now I am awakened. It can be very painful to be patient, but I have faith that the wait is worth it and that there is someone out there who is ready to give you what you need and vice versa. Love is complicated. Relationships take lots of time and work. It’s a conscious effort – not just something that happens between two people who like each other. Don’t jump in if you’re not ready. That’s not fair for either of you. Being single means you have all the time in the world to use as you see fit – freedom at its purity. It’s important to have introspective time to realize who you are and what you want before trying to share with another complex being. People may have many definitions of what kind of relationships they want to have: casual, open, exclusive, inclusive, polyamorous. Don’t settle if that is not what you truly want. Establish your guidelines for love first and stick to it. If your potential lover has a completely different agenda that you don’t see for yourself, let them go. I’m taking this time to establish mental guidelines for accepting and giving love, to workout and improve physical fitness, to accomplish independent goals, to open myself to deeper friendships, to learn from missteps, to know my self-worth, to deepen knowledge, to live in my values, and embrace confidence in who I am and realize I don’t need to change for anybody. The person you’re meant to be with will want you just as you are and find your faults endearing. Only then will you be able to paint a collaborative art piece called love whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Story-telling always has a conflict. The good news: some sort of resolution always occurs. One of the most important take-aways from hardship is being able to relate to others through experiences and sharing what you learned. Key elements of intentional story-telling: story of self, conflict, choice, values, and the story of us (how it relates to your audience). Try it out: what’s your purpose for why you are where you are right now or where you hope to be?


Day 4 (Tuesday, May 6): Mingling with the Locals

IMG_5254Breakfast was really good. Tasted like Asian cuisine with what I would call mei fun (the noodles pictured above in Cantonese). There were also curried potatoes, omelets, toast and jam. I also tried the coffee for the first time. It’s similar to the milk chai tea so it was tasty.

We received a lot of cultural and societal stories from Dr. Raj in class today:

1. If a pedestrian is hit in traffic, the person who hit them most likely runs away, especially if they’re not from the same town. A witness would help you and call the ambulance. If the person in the vehicle stays, other people will hit them.

2. From Dubai to India, you see a lot of boxes serving as suitcases. A lot of people make money from the middle east and are penny-pinchers so they will use boxes. If you are with this crowd, you will experience a lot of questions at customs.

3. Traditionally, babies are not named upon birth. They are named within 6 months. Most names are religious or relate to nature.

4.The template for a name is town born in, family name, and first name. To use our resident director as an example, his name is H.N. Nagaraja. The H (Haikady) is the town. N is the first letter of the family name. Nagaraja is his first name, which means king cobra.

5. Growing up in an extended family (uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents) is very normal. This parallels to Asian culture because we place emphasis on the family unit and taking care of your elders.

After class, I walked with Sesen to the wifi tree. Wifi really does work there!

Lunch: yellow rice, barley rice, spicy chick pea curry, another curry that was less dense and delicious, beans and a dish of tomato and onion in white sauce – this one didn’t settle for my taste buds. I went back and tried a coconut milk-like jelly dessert. It was served warm and reminded me of a dessert we have in Vietnamese culture. In fact, they taste almost identical so I enjoyed that. Food is such a fascinating topic to look at from culture to culture.

IMG_5256I also had a chance to talk to a student at lunch! His name is Raushen. He knew that we were OSU public health students studying abroad. He said he befriended some people from last year’s trip and knew we had a group that consistently visits. He asked me if I knew 2 students by name and I didn’t. I told him that there are 60,000 students at OSU so it’s difficult to know everyone. Later, I was sitting with Sesen in the rock garden using the wifi and she was looking at a graduation picture of the girl he mentioned. She graduate with a degree in public health so she does exist. Another crazy world connection. He is a 3rd year pharmacy student from the north and said it’s a different environment down here. I told him how people have said all cities in India are very different from one another. I didn’t know that Manipal U is like the ivy leagues of the US. Manipal U is a private college and costs a substantial amount for the common Indian student, but the education from this place is so sought after because of the brand/name. He asked how many students were with us. He told me that the long table our group normally sits at is called the fresher table because they reserve it for freshmen students during August/September. He asked if Sahanna was Indian and where her parents are from. I only knew her dad was from Gujarati. He said she looks like one and that every trip has one Indian. I said yeah it’s nice because she can tell us more about the food we eat and other cultural information. He questioned “it’s spicy huh?” I said “yep”. He asked what field trips we go on. I only knew Mysore. He told me about a beautiful place south of here that was influenced by the French. I admitted I didn’t know much of where we’re going, but he said enjoy it. He talked about beaches and I said we just went to one a couple days ago. I then commented that it’s interesting this university is very international and attracts a lot of students from different countries. He mentioned it started out as a medical college, so that’s why there’s so many med students on campus. They have a superior medical program. I mentioned Dr. Raj pointing out a Malaysian medical school here. I asked why that’s so. He said he didn’t really understand it either and maybe it’s cheaper here than in Malaysia and it might have started out as a 2 year in Malaysia and 2 year in India program but he was like why not just do it all here. Extremely friendly guy.

We walked over to the Manipal library to sit in the rock garden on the first floor. The wifi works beautifully there also. I was able to check emails, fix blog posts, facebook and instagram an O-H-I-O picture with a caption telling people to follow my journey in India. It feels kind of scary showing people your personal blog and letting them read into your thoughts, “aha” moments and other sentimental musings about life, but in the end I hope to positively impact others from the information I write about. And it may serve as a way for people to get to know me better because of my reserved nature.

I also vlogged with Sesen & other people in the rock garden! Yee I’m so excited to compile these videos. It was a good one because I got to capture other people on the trip. Sesen helped narrate. Kelsey, Sahanna and Rachel said hi.

2pm society and culture class with Dr. Bhat: he talked about castes a lot.

Quick fact: Doctors are not allowed to tell the gender of the child before the child is born due to the bias against females.

IMG_5258Tea time: lentil samosas and milk chai tea.

Our plan was to go shopping at 5pm but the sky let down a steady downpour of rain for 10 minutes. We watched from the cafeteria porch and eventually, the rain slowed down. Typically, rain is not seen until June, which is monsoon season but because of global warming or another reason, the pre-monsoon season is starting sooner which could have adverse effects on farmers and crops because the rain is not coming at the right time.

We walked to the outskirts of Manipal and caught a citibus for 8 rupees per person. We arrived in Udupi 10 minutes later. We walked through a town full of small shops, which reminded me of Chinatown. We went to a Krishna temple. Each Hindu temple has a bath where people wash themselves. We saw an elephant, which we weren’t allowed to take pictures of. Then, we went to a department store to buy kurtis or tunics. Finding the perfect one was so difficult because they laid out piles for everyone according to size, but then it all got messed up. It was hard because every piece of clothing was unique in the store not like in the US where they have multiple of each item stacked. The clearance section in the back had really good prices though. I found 5 to try in the dressing room and bought 2. I bought a silky blue-green swirl designed short sleeved kurti and a red long sleeve with a flower body design. The blue one is a bit large in the shoulder/arm region but I am planning to use it as PJ’s back in the states because the silky material is very cool feeling on the skin. The red one fits perfectly, and I am excited to wear it. In total it cost 1260 rupees ($21). The store was on the fancier side so I would like to find more casual modern wear clothing, such as lightweight quarter-sleeved Indian style blouses. We then went back to the temple to watch a ceremony. They put a holy statue at the top of the chariot, live music was played and the elephant led the parade down the street. A line of people pulled the chariot, people lit a path with small sections of fire and they burned a white cloth. They also launched sparklers from the ground. Later, we find out that this ceremony serves as an offering to the God.


Then we walked to a restaurant near the bus station where we would eat dinner. Near the restaurant, we also got to see a mosque. The restaurant was separated into a meat and vegetarian side. We all decided to choose vegetarian and stick together. I sat at a table with Lindsey, Kelsey F. and Dr. Raj. I wasn’t feeling hungry, so I asked for advice about what to get for a small non-fried meal (not a big fan of fried foods). I ended up getting the Dal Kitche. It was long rice cooked in a non-spicy sort of sweet curry. It had the consistency of a porridge, and I really liked it. It came with a large black pepper chip with yogurt but the pepper was very spicy so I let Kelsey eat it (also not a big fan of too spicy food). For dessert, Kelsey got mango ice cream with a fruit salad (apples, candy cherry, grapes) and Lindsey got a green pista (pistachio) slab of ice cream. My meal cost 75 rupees. In India, 5% tip is pretty generous. At the front of the restaurant, a man stood there greeting people and he asked if we wanted a group picture in front of the restaurant, and we said sure. Sahanna gave him her phone. The picture turned out really nicely despite it being a upward looking angle (normally makes people fat), but the lighting seemed like we were in a greenhouse so it was a good composition. Sesen and Sahanna were comparing hand sizes and Sahanna’s looked baby compared to Sesen and I’m like “hold up, let’s compare Sahanna”. Our hands were exactly the same size. I haven’t many people with the same hand size haha. So we decided we needed to name ourselves. Small hand twins was the first option, and then I said shawties. And Sahanna added Asian to it so now we’re known as Asian shawties. Bahaha. We then boarded the bus back to Manipal U.

10169342_10202837736917972_1235140705099697861_nIt was around 10pm when we got back and most of us felt very exhausted. Went back to the hostel, showered and hand washed my clothes. It was hard work. I have some heavy material such as t shirts and jean-like so that was harder to wash than light clothes, socks and undergarments. It took me about an hour. I might use the linen service next time because I was creating puddles of water in the room by hanging the clothes everywhere. The fan really helps in drying, but I get so cold during the night. I need to buy a warmer blanket… I wear a sweater, t-shirt, pants, scarf and socks to bed. I have a theory that bugs are attracted to humid weather so I am trying to keep my room as cold as possible. So far I’ve only seen several small bugs.

Day 3 (Monday, May 5): Let Me Take a Selfie

I’m just on a roll with these song references. Haha. Coming up with a title for each day is so much fun.

Woke up at 7:15am. Walked to breakfast and saw a few people already there. Others were still in the hostels. Breakfast consisted of onion uttapan (spelling?) – comparable to pancakes, 2 types of curry, bread with jam, and tea. A guy from Canada came over to our table and told us to take his peanut butter and Nutella because he’s leaving soon. He was here for 3 weeks studying global public health I think? They had communication with Manipal students before coming to work on a project together.

Had our very first class at 9:30am. Dr. Raj taught a general intro to global public health. Although he seemed to emphasize on the numerous field trips, he did encourage us to look at supplementary material on Carmen about case studies. They seem very interesting like the prevalence of cataracts in India. I remember we watched a video about this issue in LeaderShape, but I forgot what it was called or even how to find it 😦

– Tried googling and found someone’s personal journal on LeaderShape. This is what she wrote about the video: “We watched a movie about a doctor in India who made cataract surgery easily accessible to the everyman.  He made his own hospital and figured out a way to mass produce the lenses which are placed into the eye after the cataract is removed.  They cost hundreds of dollars if bought from the medical industry, but they are produced in this clinic for a few dollars each.  These accomplishments were born from the vision of a single man.  He found the energy to pursue his vision and make it a reality” Possible final project topic? What an inspiring story. I need to find out more about it.

The wifi doesn’t work in the classroom either, so that’s a bummer. Dr. Raj said it’s because we’re right next to the exam room where students take computerized standardized tests. The room is extremely cold, which feels nice… but I also don’t have a sweater for when it gets too cold. I thought the bathroom here would offer toilet paper, but nope. I learned to bring a stash of toilet paper everywhere I go.

Afterwards, we visited the campus store. Looked like one you would see on High Street with branded clothes, school supplies and some food. I might consider buying something with Manipal U on it – nice momento. Then I joined Dr. Raj and Lindsey to ask how to exchange US dollars to rupees. Raj went to the public health office to ask someone questions. I saw SAS on Raj’s bag and asked him where he went. It was a biostatistics conference in Canada. He asked why. I told him through Buckeye Leadership Fellows, we have challenges to solve a real world problem so last semester we worked with SAS to smooth their merging of 5 departments and improve communication. We took a trip down to Cary, NC to visit the company. He said they always sponsor these types of conferences. His favorite program is JMP, which is produced by SAS. He said he uses it all the time because he is a professor in biostatistics. I love when the world connects in this crazy coherent way. We went to a bank, but I needed my passport so I planned to go later.

IMG_5235 eSecond class of the day was on Indian culture and society at 2pm. I am specifically intrigued by the history of civilization, languages, and religions of India. Here’s a list of quick facts that are interesting:

1. The British colonized India because of the East India Company trade. Mahatma Gandhi was the leading force in promoting Indian dependence from the British. Later, the region of India was separated into mainland India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Muslims predominate in Pakistan and Hindus in India. West and East Pakistan were different because the East Pakistanis were Bengali so East Pakistan changed its name to Bangladesh. The part of India touching Bangladesh is called West Bengali.

2. Religion breakdown in India: Hinduism (82%), Islam (12%), Christianity (2%), Sikhism (2%) Buddhism (1%), Jainism (<1%), Zoroastrianism (<1%).

3. There are many languages spoken in India. The national language is Hindi, but others are based on region.

4. Arranged marriages are still prevalent, but to a lesser extent.

5. Widows are not allowed to remarry.

6. Symbolism of marriage: Red along hair part, bindi, necklace, toe ring. Traditionally, there was no such thing as a ring ceremony, but it’s becoming increasingly popular because of globalization.

At tea time, crunchy fried veggies with chai tea was served. After, I walked to the supermarket with a large group. People bought colorful rugs, Tide bars to hand-wash clothes with, and mangoes. I also took a selfie with a cow!

ImageI walked to the bank with Sesen, passport in hand. We had a nice chat about heritage, family, and boys. Some girls stopped us and wanted to touch Sesen’s hair on the way there. Sesen and I thought the bank teller was cute. He answered some of our money questions, but then left us to fend for ourselves in exchanging. I ended up exchanging $240, which is approximately 13,000 rupees. Sesen realized she left her water bottle at the bank when we were about to enter the hostel, so we walked back. The sky was a nice twilight pink color. We got back and went straight to Sahanna’s room because we were told that the IT guy would come to fix the wifi, but he never showed up.

Dinner: spicy chicken, yogurt, barley rice, veggies (so good!) and curry. Thought about staying to play cards (sidenote: card playing can be seen as gambling so heed caution when playing in public), but needed to come back to the room to wash clothes and didn’t even get to it. I had good connection to the internet all night (rarity), so I spent the time blogging, writing emails, and facebooking until 1am.