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?

~lntan

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2017 | Get Out There & Be Children Again

Happy Old Year and Happy New Year beautiful souls,

With friends going back to school/work, family getting on my case about my love life, acquaintances saying “thankful for 2016 because I found him/her”, and free time away from classes, I started this new year feeling a bit lonely. I am not proud of this, but I think it’s important to acknowledge all emotions, for we are complex beings.

What I do know is that I have a lot be grateful for, both in the past year and in the future.

Thank you 2016 for: the opportunity to interview at two more medical schools, consecutive snow days at my work at the school, meaningful hygiene/puberty presentation with 4th graders, beautiful cherry blossoms in Athens, group photos with all the 2nd graders I taught in AmeriCorps, first music festival, first osteopathic medicine conference, acceptance into another medical school, finishing my AmeriCorps service term with wonderful supervisors and coworkers, making a real impact in the Athens community in regards to health and wellness, prematriculation, scenic running/biking trails in Athens, getting to know a beautiful soul at my elementary school with whom I had authentic and vulnerable mentoring conversations, road trip to Cincinnati with my best friend, a sweet roommate, moving back to my hometown, first day of medical school, white coat ceremony, love, knowledge, wisdom, learning, good health, PR’s in 5k and half marathon, keeping up with fitness while in school, spontaneity, the most authentic talks with my childhood girlfriends during our night out, and reconnecting with people from the past.

Goals for 2017:

  1. Act out of love and kindness. One of my all-time favorite quotes is: “kill em with kindness.” I recently read an article about how to deal with negative emotions and that is to pray and wish happiness and well-being for that person that has caused the emotions. Remaining angry and resentful only hurts your inner peace.
  2. Embrace spontaneity.
  3. Just do it. This was the same goal I had last year, but I decided to bring it back because it’s a work in progress. I realize I might be one of those people that likes to work under pressure, but procrastinating and thinking too much causes unnecessary stress.
  4. Step outside your comfort zone in terms of putting yourself out there in leadership roles.
  5. Run the Columbus (full) Marathon.
  6. Travel this summer.
  7. Gain new medical knowledge, skills, and experiences this summer.
  8. Be an initiator. Some things don’t happen unless you make them happen. Watch this excellent TEDTalk – What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection. I’m inspired: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vZXgApsPCQ
  9. Do more of what makes me feel alive – at least one thing every day.
  10. Live in vulnerability and authenticity, always. I found that it’s freeing for the human spirit to be as open and honest as we can with people close to us. Just discovered this TEDTalk and she speaks words from my soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcm-mAwPkxg
    • “Uncover your soul and look for that soul-spark in everyone else”
    • “Step off your hamster wheel into deep time”
    • “Getting emotionally naked with another human being, putting aside pride and defensiveness, lifting the layers, and sharing with each other our vulnerable souls”
    • “You don’t have to wait for a life-or-death situation to clean up the relationships that matter to you, to offer the marrow of your soul and to seek it in another”

Do this exercise with me:

  • Grab a plain white sheet of paper.
  • Write in big letters:

    “What makes you feel alive?”

  • Write in smaller print around the question, what activities or feelings make you feel most alive in life. Don’t filter it and write everything that comes to mind.
  • Hang it up somewhere you look at everyday. Resolve to do more of these things that makes you feel alive.
  • It’s a working document, so feel free to add to it when inspiration strikes.

I updated mine recently and I’ll share it:

fullsizerender

This exercise helped wave away the feeling of loneliness I had. I feel more connected to myself and to the world around me. Amidst our crazy, busy, and hectic lives often working for other people, I think it’s imperative to do something everyday that genuinely makes us happy. The feeling I get when I do something that makes me come alive is analogous to a child playing and exploring the outdoors with friends in the summertime – excited, care-free, youthful, and rejuvenated. So get out there and be children again 🙂

Update 1/15/17: Happy early Chinese New Year. This year, it’s celebrated on January 28, 2017 – year of the rooster. An ancient Chinese superstition that I was surprised to learn about in last year’s post was that one is supposed to have bad luck during your birth year sign. I guess the bad luck caught up to me in the remaining month of the monkey year… misspoken words, confused feelings, and disgraceful pride. However, I believe this is how things are supposed to be because everything happens for a reason – it’s up to you what you take from it.

A recent epiphany I had regarding the practice of medicine is that the role of doctors is not only to diagnose and treat diseases or even pay attention to social determinants of health, it is to help our patients find meaning in their lives. This struck me while listening to Paul Kalanithi (http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/before-i-go.html) and re-inspired my purpose for choosing a career in medicine. Along with our medical knowledge, lab tests, and prescribed medications, we should seek to explore how the diagnosis of a disease affects the meaning of life for a patient.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

Here’s to the journey of life and meaning ❤

~lntan

Leap into Love + a Message for the Brokenhearted & Lonely

An excuse to write on leap day or do I actually have something meaningful to say? A little bit of both 😛 It’s been one year since I saved this to my drafts, and I’m sure many of you have read about the story/study already. But if not, it’s a worthwhile read: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html?_r=0

Here are some profound quotes that left a lasting impression on me:

“Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.”

  • This is very true after leaving the college world. In professional settings, you rarely get to know your colleagues on an intimate level because no one tries or we are all so absorbed in our own personal lives.

“It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.”

  • I like this idea – telling others what we appreciate about them.

“Most of us think about love as something that happens to us. We fall. We get crushed. […] But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.”

  • We refer to how relationships start as the colloquial saying “falling in love” when we should instead say, choosing to love. From this study, love is a choice we make and an action we do. Maybe that’s why relationships and marriages fail – because we make the conscious or unconscious choice to not act anymore.

“But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.”

  • This hit deep. Being innately human, sometimes all we need is to be heard, to be known, to connect emotionally with another human being.

“It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.”

  • Although love is a choice and an action that anyone can perform towards others, we can only meet people as far as they are willing to go. I’m not only talking about romantic love, it’s friendships and other relationships too. You might have good intentions to want a deeper relationship with someone, but the other person must be comfortable enough to meet you in this circle of vulnerability and authenticity before this can happen.

“Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

A part of being human means to crave attention from other humans, and I think love is the key to this equation. I like to think of ourselves as one big human family on this blue revolving sphere called Earth, circling around somewhere in the vast universe. There is no need for hate because we are what we have, and our world would be a better place if we loved and cared for one another more.

I would like to try this questionnaire one day. Even though I need to constantly remind myself, one of my goals in life is to be more vulnerable and caring, spreading love and kindness everywhere I go in order to create meaningful relationships with others. I enjoy exploring people’s internal thoughts and just being there for them in the most humanly way.

Here’s to living a life of vulnerability, authenticity, and love ❤

Update 3/19/16: I was heartbroken today. I was really upset for a good hour – water works, sad thoughts, the whole show. But after that hour, almost like the sun creeping out of ominous clouds on a stormy day, my mind shifted. The cliche quote “love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own” popped into my head. I don’t 100% agree with this quote as I think you should always practice self-care and self-love first, but I like the message behind it. If you truly loved and cared for this person, you would respect their decisions and wish them the very best in life. So that is what I did.

I guess I am sharing this personal story because I realized how powerful positive thinking and mindfulness is. When I shifted towards this positive attitude, I started thinking of bountiful possibilities. It made me reflect on this blog post. I was pleasantly surprised that three old friends liked my tweet today which said “Love can hurt, but I still want it to be the guiding principle to the way I go about life and think about life #sacrifices #notetoself”.

This is a message for the brokenhearted or lonely:

Love really is a beautiful thing… I’m a firm believer of leading with love in all interactions, whether it be with family, friends, in the work place or with strangers because it’s a universal feeling that we, as human beings have in common. We all want to be loved, to be cared about, to have someone who is interested in what we do every hour of the day. Most of us want a companion to share all of life’s moments with. A lot of single people my age are thinking about how to find this person – resorting to apps and online sites. I have nothing against these platforms as I have never tried, but I think the most exciting part about finding this person is to be openopen to meeting new people in daily life, open to strangers becoming friends, open to getting to know people on a deeper level, open to friends becoming lovers, open to revisiting people from the past, open to authenticity, open to vulnerability. I think these are the key ingredients to finding your forever person. There are 7.4 billion people – some that have already found their person, some that are in the process, many that are still searching. Someone out there is meant for you and will bring you happiness like you’ve never felt. It’s worth the wait.

Update 1/14/17: I experienced ultimate heartbreak yesterday – one that spans the majority of my adult life. This time, it did not go away after an hour. One of my friends shared this ironic quote with me: “If you really wanted to hurt someone, love them deeper.” I started a personal positivity note titled “Why Heartbreak is Good” on my phone to restructure my thinking and wanted to share some musings:

  • Future relationships will be healthier and more genuine due to lessons learned.
  • You want what you can’t have – that’s a paradoxical truth. You can’t change other people’s feelings. You want someone to act because they want to inherently, not because you’re asking them to. If they don’t feel the same or want the same thing, move on.
  • Life could always be worse: terminal disease, divorce, death of someone you know, inadequate basic necessities, no network of support, barriers to goal achievement. Think about how lucky you are: to be breathing, to hear your heart beating, to see another sunrise, to choose how you will spend your 24 hours.
  • There is someone out there for you. Whether you’ve already met or he’s in your distant future, you’ll love again and this time it’ll be the real deal without secrecy and lies. Remember to look up, look around, be open, and proactive. The world is your playground.
  • You’re 24, still young. Yes, many are in serious relationships, engaged, married, or on dating apps but this is YOUR journey. It’s time to focus on you and start building a steady foundation for a good enjoyable life later on. Unfortunately, being female and in medicine brings many challenges both in professional and personal life. This is the career path you chose. You worked your butt off for six years to get to this point. Cherish it.
  • Embrace the clean break. Embrace your own company. Work on yourself while keeping your eyes open. These are exciting times ahead. Keep building your knowledge. This year is about you. When you do find your person, you’ll know. You’ll always know. In the meantime, be the best person you can be so that when you’re both ready, you can build a life together with the best versions of yourselves for a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
  • (My spirituality) God knows what’s in our hearts, God listens. Everything happens for a reason. Trust Him and the process.
  • If you’ve never been in a relationship with anyone else, you’re always going to have doubts and wonder what it’d be like to be with someone else. I think this makes both parties more prone to cheat. It’s the right time to explore these feelings and know with more certainty what we’re looking for in a significant other. Heartache is 1000x better now than divorce later down the road.
  • We’re just people, humans. We should never be afraid of each other. Don’t be afraid to tell people how you feel. If they don’t feel the same way, at least you released the energy out in the universe. Move on and release more good energy elsewhere.
  • Your partner should make you feel good and challenge you to be a better person every day. They open your mind to things you’ve never thought of. They understand, listen, love, are patient, and trustworthy. If any of these qualities are absent, this is not love and you should move on or have a talk.

 

~lntan

I have no regrets, but I would do it over again

You may be thinking “Ellen, that doesn’t make sense. You have regrets if you would do it over again”, but let me explain.

I’m now a proud graduate of The Ohio State University with a BS in Neuroscience. As a first-generation student, I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams all of the unique experiences I’ve had these past four years. For that, I am forever grateful for all the people I have met and all the opportunities that were afforded to me.

DSCN5087But I’ve hit a serious roadblock to my vocational dream that developed the summer after my junior year of high school – to use medicine, science, leadership, and education to positively impact the future of healthcare and better the well-being of humankind.

At this point, I do not have sufficient credentials to attend medical school and I wish I could tell my freshman self what I know now. But I realize this is life. You live and you learn. It’s all a part of the journey.

If granted a wish, I would re-do my college experience over again to make sure I adequately show medical schools that I would make a great physician and achieve success the first time around. The medical school process is an arduous one, but I know this is my purpose if I still have the drive to find out what went wrong from professionals involved in admissions and to improve myself to re-apply again. Even if I say I would re-do my experience, I have no regrets. A lot of failures are blessings in disguise. I’m learning a lot about myself in this time of despair, feeling lost, but also of introspection. This failure has forced me to re-evaluate the question “why medicine?” and I feel that once I am at the moment where I can confidently say “I made it”, I will be more grateful for this unique life opportunity than if I had effortlessly gained admission the first time.

I’m currently applying for jobs to gain more experience working in a clinical setting and planning to re-take the MCAT. I am excited to continue on the journey, embracing the roadblocks and detours.

Stay tuned for some blog topics I would like to share in the coming months! 🙂

Sneak Peek
– What I learned about life while in college
– Medical School application tips I wish I knew
– Love & Vulnerability
– Book reviews
– Revisit of a blog post I previously wrote concerning social media

If you feel some of my post-grad sentiments, I’ll leave you with inspiration from Nicki Minaj’s new song (who knew Nicki could write some lyrics that would become my life anthem and also match the theme of my blog so well??)

“So make sure the stars is what you aim for.
Make mistakes though.

I never worry, life is a journey.
I just wanna enjoy the ride.
What is the hurry? It’s pretty early.
It’s okay, we’ll take our time.

The night is still young.
How dare we sit quietly.
And watch the world pass us by.”

And this quote:
CC_o_pWVEAAVotO.jpg large

#nevergiveup

Day 25 (Tuesday, May 27): Fishery

Officially woke up at 8:30am – the longest I’ve ever slept-in here. Thankfully, class was at 9:30am, so I didn’t have to scramble in the morning that much. Breakfast: mashed rice dish, yellow rice, and omelet.

Listened to two lectures taught by Dr. Raj. Some interesting things we discussed in class:

  • They are checking for MERS from Dubai to Mangalore. I remember mom mentioning the disease a few days ago, but I initially didn’t think much about it.
  • Posed question: is gun violence a public health issue? Common class consensus was yes. He was referring to the Santa Barbara shooting and how mental illness is always brought up. Lindsey shared with us that there’s always more to just mental illness. It’s often how the person is brought up and the mentally ill are the ones who suffer from violence, not the other way around. Basically, Dr. Raj made a call-to-action for us to do something about gun violence. Sesen shared that Israel has a stringent process on obtaining a gun, including a mental health test. It’s an issue between personal rights and governmental control.
  • Someone asked if doctors who worked at tertiary care centers make more money than primary. He said at Manipal, it’s comparable because people want the prestige of being a staff at Manipal University.
  • In the biotechnology lecture, he used the example of cellular phones in the introduction. He flashbacked to the days of beepers/pagers, which were most commonly used for notification of a baby delivery. 1990’s was when everything changed in regards to technology.
  • Cell phones are cheap in India. Poor people own them, even those who cannot afford to eat.

Dr. Kamath came in the classroom to deliver a brief lecture on the fisheries. Then, Sameer took us to the fish market.

IMG_1419It was exactly what Dr. Kamath described and showed in the slides. Women were selling fresh fish with bare hands.

IMG_1405We saw a lot of cutting and scraping. Occupational health issues: skin candidiasis (fungal infection), contact dermatitis (inflamed skin), and chronic paronychia (soft tissue infection around fingernails). We passed by a slum neighborhood on the way there. Blue tarps served as roofs and children were playing in an open field near an old landfill.

Traveled back to campus for lunch: two rotis, barley rice, veggie/squash stew, bean curry, a sweeter bean curry, and the coconut milk jelly dessert. I sat next to Adam, and we were both fishing in our backpack at the same time, but I pulled out my hand sanitizer a few milliseconds before he did. He was like stop copying me. Anna was wondering who’s the oldest person in our group and she thought it was me and her because we share the same birthday, but we found out Lauren is turning 22 in July! Bought my pulpy orange juice after lunch. The lady at the store front now recognizes me and automatically knows what I want. Haha loyal customer.

Walked back to the hostel with Lauren. Hoping to make some mad progress on the paper! I worked at the desk, while the laptop was charging, but eventually moved over to the bed. I uploaded pictures from the fishery and finished the field trip experience essay about Manasa Jyothi. I learned this fun fact! Karnataka only knows three seasons: spring summer, hot summer, and rainy season. I changed to a long-sleeve shirt and long pants because it was cold in my room. I ate a peanut butter Clif bar because I wasn’t planning on going to tea time. Wish I had brought more Clif bars here! Then, I decided to work in the lobby of the hostel for a change in scenery. I really like the temperature down there – clash of cold and hot air. Anna and Sahanna said hi when they left for tea time. Taniqua said hi when she came back from tea and wanted to join me in the lobby. I made some more progress on the paper. Lauren came down with Taniqua because she wanted to buy mango juice at the mini-store in the hostel. Taniqua bought a chocolate ice cream bar. Nikki, Xhonela, and Ashley came down to go buy dinner on the second floor of the cafeteria. Then, Anna entered and showed us clothes she bought from Fab India. When we no longer ran into people from our group, Taniqua and I had a thought-provoking conversation about life, religion, and love. Some advice she gave, which resonated with me: “do it for yourself because in the end, you’re gonna live with your decision, not your family.” She talked about faith as an intangible thing and people have problems with believing in something they cannot see. The only unconditional love is from God and love from anyone else is conditional. She told me to pray to God for guidance and hindsight. I expressed concern about the uncertainty of the future and she said “go with the flow. You never know what might happen. Things could work out later down the road.” I believe in that too. We talked about believing in more than one soul mate and she thinks soul mates are formed by marriage, which I’ve never thought about that way before. She wants her first marriage to be her only, even if he commits adultery. They’ll work through it. From traveling, she wants to adopt a child in addition to having her own. I’ve thought about that too. Before dinner, I gave Taniqua one toilet paper roll because she told me she needed some and I was afraid of having to take some home with me because I have about 2 full rolls left for 3.5 days. I borrowed her room bug spray because I’ve been getting colonies of ants in the bathroom.

Dinner: two rotis, barley rice, potato and veggie curry, black bean curry, peas and potato curry, and yogurt. I feel like I’ve been eating a lot lately. Talked to Drew about his Fab India purchases and his birthday. Then, Adam arrived and I asked him what he got at Fab India. He showed Lauren, Kelsey, and I his purchases: an Indian-styled red shirt, a western red button-up shirt, and a western gray button-up shirt. I really liked them.

Went to library café with Kelsey and Lauren to work on the paper. I really wish I could Shazam the songs played in there. It’s like Indian EDM. Haha. I purchased Darjealing tea and a mango cup.

IMG_5698Anna, Adam, and Drew came into the library café too. I finished my paragraph about ASHAs. I think that’s the most interesting/well-written part of my paper.

Went back to hostel with Kelsey and Lauren. I washed clothes (I love the hand-washing routine now. It brings me so much joy. I’m weird) and showered. I submitted my field trip essay at 2:30am, which was around 777 words when Dr. Raj wanted 500… hopefully that’s okay. I always write too much.

Day 21 (Friday, May 23): “It’s Not How Much We Give But How Much Love We Put into Giving” -Mother Teresa

Woke up around 7:45am. Wore the green white-flowered sleeveless Kurti. Breakfast around 8:35am: round bread, veggie curry, omelet, and tea. Received some compliments on my Kurti. Rachel was interested in getting her pants fitted after someone mentioned that the store where I purchased the Kurti provides free tailoring.

We took traveling vans to Manasa Jyothi. Our Mysore minivan crew got excited to see Chand again, but sadly he wasn’t driving. Adam was my seat buddy! He complimented that my Kurti makes me look more oriental. I was like “I know.” I’ll embrace my Asianness. Haha. Dr. Raj rode in our van also. It was a 45-minute drive. Adam and I talked about dreams, X-Men, and my lizard story. Manasa Jyothi has been my favorite field trip so far. The woman from the Netherlands has really done something spectacular, and she’s only 37 years old. Truly inspiring. I hope to pursue a passion like that.

IMG_5619As we passed through the white stone-walled threshold of Manasa Jyothi, I felt an indescribable feeling of happiness and comfort. A trampoline and playground emerged with numerous joyous children swinging, riding bikes and running around. At first glance, one would not suspect that these children have suffered more than we could imagine. The story of how Maartje van den Brand and Shobha Madhyastha founded and manage the school inspires my future endeavors in life.

IMG_1240Manasa Jyothi is a residential school for mentally and physically handicapped children. They recently moved to their current resident in Kundapur. It’s a modest-sized school that has grown gradually over the last ten years (started in 2000). They have around 18 children between 5-18 years old. The infrastructure can hold up to 35 children. Services include individualized programming based on each child’s needs, free medication and medical care, good hygiene and health practices, daily teaching, exercise, yoga and free medical equipment (i.e. wheelchairs, helmets, back braces). They are challenged to be independent by making their bed, washing their hands and brushing their teeth. The primary goal is to keep the children healthy and clean according to western standards. The secondary goal is to provide a safe and educational home. Tertiary goal: inclusion of disabled children into normal schools. When the Government passed the Right to Education Act in the parliament, disabled children were not included in this article. It is one of ADAPT’s greatest achievements that after much lobbying an amendment of the Right to Education Act was made. This means that more than 30 million disabled children will now have a right to education in India as well. Inclusion in education of children who are differently abled in India still has a long way to go. Two of the students will attend a normal school next term.

IMG_1245A range of staff is available and needed, such as teachers, volunteers, a psychologist, physiotherapist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist to provide unique care for each child. The philosophy is that the children learn best when they are safe, happy, and valued. Every child has this right. They aim to build the children’s self-esteem by teaching them to value themselves and develop other positive qualities (e.g. independence, honesty, integrity, respect for others). They have a non-violence principle and focus on verbal and visual (sign language) communication. The school is funded privately by a trust and does not request money from the parents. This is important for children who do not have loving parents to take care of them properly at home. Manasa Jyothi serves as their home, education and transition into society. In India, the stigmatized status of disabled children renders an unhealthy and sometimes dangerous lifestyle. The children end up on streets, beg for money to survive or are abused. The vision of Manasa Jyothi is to change the stigma by showing the interaction between handicapped children and care-takers.

IMG_1388I enjoyed seeing and hearing Maartje talk about her humble beginnings with Manasa Jyothi. Maartje is a physiotherapist from the Netherlands. Her father has been an inspiring force in her life as he has dedicated the last 15 years of his life working for UNICEF and the UN to improve human rights of people in prison. After graduating and volunteering for an NGO for a year in the slums of Indonesia serving mentally and physically disabled children, she felt a calling to do something good for the world in 2007. She gave up her physiotherapy practice and left family and friends to move to India. She found her way to Manasa Jyothi and was only planning to volunteer for three months in order to improve the health care and education. As time passed, she learned of the horrid things that were happening to the children, such as molestation and abuse. She was so disturbed that she went to the police, which is uncommon to do. People told her to “look the other way”. After three years, she decided to leave and started a foundation in 2009 with help from family and friends in the Netherlands. She mentioned that in our countries (US and Europe), people would be willing to help, but here no one wanted to get involved. “Foreign people come here and think ‘oh this place is too nice. Why do you need more funding?’” It’s a struggle retaining workers at the school because of the stigma behind disabled children. Frequently, workers leave before getting married because “what will the neighbors think if she works with handicapped children?” The woman’s status decreases if she works with handicapped children rendering her less desirable for marriage. Maartje learned the local language, Kannada because she believes communication is pivotal when helping people of a different background. She always says it’s her last year, but looks at the children and can’t leave.

IMG_5610It was shocking and eye-opening to hear the children’s stories. Vino’s parents came to get him fully drunk one day and Maartje now refuses to let him go home. One parent was quoted to say “let God decide if she lives or not”. One girl was locked in a hut for seven years. Another girl had her uterus removed by her parents. Several have cases of cerebral palsy, which developed during birth. Seeing the children at Manasa Jyothi now is a complete turnaround. Vino is awaiting admission to a normal school. The children are clean, smiling, and laughing as they are riding their bikes, chasing after each other or swinging on the playground. I had the opportunity to watch Maartje interact with a girl through sign language, and I could sense the love and connection. The girl looked at Maartje as if she were her mom. I admire that Maartje experienced first-hand a (public health) issue and was courageous enough to pursue a solution to the problem when all odds were against her. A quote on their website http://manasajyothi.jimdo.com/ encompasses my thoughts and feelings about this school: “it’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” –Mother Teresa. I hope that one day I can live life giving back to a cause I am passionate about with love.

IMG_5608Afterwards, we headed to the beach in Kundapur, which was surprisingly pretty clean and serene. Stopped by a restaurant for lunch. Dr. Raj ordered us a 5-course meal with samosa, naan, three types of curry, gulab jamun, yogurt, rice with raisins, veggie noodles, fried tortilla chip, white rice, more curry and ice cream with fruit. There was a lot of food.

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Dr. Raj’s family joined us for lunch also, and we got introduced to them at the end. We met his brother-in-law, sister, brother and two nieces, one of which is attending Manipal for medical school. His sister is an OBGYN and brother-in-law is a pediatrician.

IMG_5631Adam casually used me as a shoulder rest while we were waiting for the van, which coincidentally happens to me a lot when I’m around tall people. He questioned if I get dark easily since I’m part Malaysian. He asked what the other half is. I said Vietnamese and we concluded that the people get pretty dark.

We went to the Hanging Bridge next. I slept a little on the way there. The bridge was beautiful. I got on it, but decided not to cross because it was precariously waving back and forth. I was imagining what it would be like to fall into the water below, and that scared me because I don’t know how to swim thus causing my fear of large bodies of water. Alvian shared my sentiments, so that was nice someone else understood. Kelsey R and Taniqua didn’t go either. The others just went to the other side and came back. Got some good pictures though!

IMG_1405Then, we went to another beach. Everyone took off their shoes and got in the water except me because I don’t like the feeling of wet sand and shoes. Adam thought of the idea to do a shadow O-H-I-O picture, which turned out awesome!

IMG_1423I took some scenic pictures of a canoe, an elusive clear-colored crab and waves crashing on rocks, while everyone else enjoyed the water. I was cooling myself off with my airplane tickets, which serve as good emergency fans by the way when Adam asked if I save them. Me- “Yes.” Adam- “Me too. I keep my movie tickets also.” Me- “Wait. Me too!” Adam- “Did you save the ones from last night?” Me- “Yes (checks purse).” I’ve been collecting movie tickets since Home Alone was in the theaters. Haha.

IMG_1434We had the option of going shopping afterwards. Half of the people hopped off the van and half of us went with Dr. Raj. The department store had saris, kurtis, cotton scarves, and children’s clothes. Nothing really caught my eye, but several people got some quality stuff for a cheap price.

Returned to campus for tea time: fried tofu-like balls. Back to room. Uploaded pictures to computer and dilly dallied until dinner at 7:30pm. I changed my profile picture to one of me and the little boy I fell in love with at Manasa Jyothi. I went to their website, read, and wrote down information because I am genuinely interested and wanted to remember as much as possible. I posted the website under the profile picture.

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Dinner was good: barley rice, roti, Gobi Manchurian, squash curry, and another curry. Had yogurt also. It’s weird – I hated the yogurt in the beginning, but now I really like it as a palate cleanser at the end of the meal. Serves as a pseudo-dessert too. Sat with Kelsey F, Alexa, Adam, and Lindsey. I asked how Sahanna was feeling. She said “better.” Someone said Adam should do a Mohawk. And he turned it on me and said I should do a Mohawk. Lindsey said “that’s gonna take a lot of maintenance.” Adam continued with “buy a leather jacket and wear some brass knuckles.” Me- “I think of Grand Theft Auto when I hear brass knuckles.” Adam- “That’s what I was basing it off of! Get out of my head.” I nod my head a lot when I listen to other people talk. Adam started imitating me and I burst out laughing. Alexa and Kelsey F were like “What’s going on? Did we miss something?” Adam was just being super silly. I haven’t laughed that hard in a while.

Walked back to hostel with Lindsey and ran into half of the girls standing in a circle at the top of the 5th floor stairs. Xhonela, Kelsey R, Lauren, Ashley, and Nikki were there. We talked about experiences in India and bugs. I shared my lizard story. Some shared their excitement for heading back to the states. I find it more worthwhile to make the most of every moment, good or bad. It’s inevitable that we’re leaving, so why pine for that day when you can be happy right now? I constantly remind myself that we won’t ever be in this moment in our lives again. Back at the room, I washed clothes, showered, skyped Arif and mom, tried catching up in the word doc journal in bed, but fell asleep. Sesen posted a comment on my FB expressing her surprise that I worked at Hollister and teased me about having a lot of past lives. It made me think about authenticity and the implications of being a “mysterious” person. I don’t really talk about myself very often – preferring to listen to others first, but one of my goals in life is to be more vulnerable. So I found myself pondering if having different facets of your personality show at different times a good thing or bad thing. I tried figuring this out on Skype with Arif. I want to be an authentic person and thought the way to do this is to be one person across life’s many different activities. He brought up that it’s not really possible to be the same person because we have to act differently in different settings (I remember learning about the term “impression management” in sociology). I guess he’s right. We both concluded that the most important way to be authentic is to make sure your core values stay the same.

Manasa Jyothi Handicapped Residential SchoolMy favorite group photo on the trip.

Another quote from the Manasa Jyothi website: “Consideration like ‘he is mine or he is another’s’ occur only to narrow-minded people. To broad-minded people the whole world is their family.”

Day 15 (Saturday, May 17): Adventures in Mysore + Life Musing

Woke up around 6:45am. Walked down to breakfast around 7:10am. Adam, Drew and Paul were the only ones there when Lindsey and I arrived. I hugged Adam because it’s his birthday! The dining area was immaculate and mostly white in color. Breakfast was buffet style and featured American food! There were an assortment of around 15 dishes, bread, an omelet station, pastries, fruit juice, cereal, milk, coffee and tea. I was craving cereal from yesterday’s noodle dessert that tasted like Frosted Flakes, so I had that along with potatoes, pancake, turkey sausage and a cup of tea.

IMG_0899First stop: Traveled to the top of a mountain to visit the Sri Chamundeshwari Hindu temple.

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Our driver asked if we were all Christian. He told us he’s Muslim. I greeted him with “assalamualaikum” (May peace be upon you) and he responded “Wa ‘Alaikum Assalaam” (May peace be upon you too).

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When we approached the golden temple, little brown blobs were moving around and they turned out to be dozens of monkeys.

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Second stop: Christian church. We explored the congregation area and the basement.

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IMG_1316Third stop: Silk scarf store. I believe the scarves were around 1000 rupees. I didn’t buy any, but quite a few people did.

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While driving, saw an area where a plethora of white sheets were hanging. I don’t remember who told us this, but this is their method to wash and dry hospital sheets.

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Fourth stop: Women’s Health Research Institute.

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After a brief introduction by three ladies, we received a tour of the facility. Most of us quickly realized that mostly women worked here, so someone asked if any men do. They said “yes”. The three guys work as the driver and food coordinators.

We met an intern from the US that’s studying TB at the institute. There is a $500 administration fee to ensure the interns are serious and not just here for vacation. We toured the kitchen for the interns. Before leaving, a group of us talked to the US intern. He’s from California and took a year off after graduating from UC Berkeley with a public health major. He will be attending Yale Medical School in the Fall. He was here for 6 months. Fun fact: he learned to drive a vespa here.

Interns in lab study various topics such as:
– Malaria and helminthes infections in pregnant women
– Joint Indo-US study of lactobacillus and its phages in bacterial vaginosis
– UTI
– Vit D deficiency in women with BV
– Dengue virus IgG ELISA

Research:

Lab
– Molecular epidemiology of bacterial vaginosis. Amsel’s criteria for diagnosing bacterial vaginosis (must meet 3 of 4):

1. Thin homogenous vaginal discharge.
2. Vaginal pH higher than 4.5.
3. Postive whiff test for amine with KOH prep.
4. Clue cells on saline wet prep

Lactobacillus research funded by NHI. Lactobacillus in vagina and urine testing. Post-test counseling and post-natal care (PNC).

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– Evaluation of rapid diagnostic tests
– Antibiotic resistance
– Community acquired resistant UTI
– STI

Community
– Maternal child health projects
– Women’s reproductive health
– Cancer prevention
– Immunization and children health camp

Clinic
– Longitudinal cohort studies on bacterial vaginosis, reproductive tract infections, cervical cancer screening, STI/HIV prevention.
– Obtain HIV blood from mother. Identify positive or negative. Counseling available.

How they build more awareness about their services to the community:
Collect list of pregnant woman from Anganwadi teacher. Go door-to-door (service at their doorstep). This makes it easier to motivate people to come to the mobile clinic in the subsequent days.

2nd day- Education for general public. Awareness program for blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, HIV. Pregnant women. Immunizations. Birth. Flip chart pictures and power points. Family planning.

3rd– Medical camp. Self-help group. Bring women to clinic. HIV stigma very high. ASHA linked to village. Mobile clinic. Given a place to set up like a school. General check-up. Consent. Antenatal exam. Blood draw, serum separation, blood grouping.

– They do not provide treatment, but focus on education, research, detection and counseling.

– The institute is linked to the government.

– Post-natal care follow-ups last up to one year.

– Serve rural areas. Have capacity to serve 144 villages, but currently it’s 82 villages.

– HIV in pregnant woman is decreasing.

– Highest cancer rate in India is cervical.

PAP smear requires a lot of trained workers and is typically administered by private doctors. The rural population needs sustainable tests -> VIA (Mysore is pioneering this) – visual inspection. Treated by cryotherapy and LEEP.

I asked the question “for young girls, is it common to provide preventative vaccinations for cervical cancer like Gardasil?” They talked about how expensive it is – $6000-7000, which is a challenge. Currently, it is not on the required immunization chart. Targets ages 9-30 years old. Research is currently working on a cost-effective approach to preventing cervical cancer. This is also a public policy issue. They need large interest groups to support the vaccinations.

Parliamentary is mostly men. Advocating for women is a constant struggle.

Saving Children Improving Lives (SCIL) is a successful strategy for increasing uptake of HIV/PMTCT services among rural pregnant women. Provision of conditional cash transfers to women’s microeconomic self-help group members to refer pregnant women for antenatal care and HIV testing.

Prerana women’s health initiative. Objectives: provide sexual and reproductive healthcare; physical, mental and family health; conduct research to provide evidence-based care and treatment.

Project Chaitanya: increase awareness and education around the prevention of cervical cancer.

Primary prevention: 1) Creating a peer educator model in rural villages by giving training and awareness about HPV, cervical cancer and vaccination.
2) HPV- Vaccine acceptability study by parents

Secondary prevention: collaboration with prevention international: No cervical cancer (PINCC) from the US –increase screening capacity of developing countries to screen women for precancerous lesions using simple methods

Train health providers in performing simple procedure like cryotherapy and LEEP on detection of precancerous condition.

Current cervical cancer screening program is on Friday (special clinic day only for VIA screening). IMG_0970The ladies were so hospitable in that they provided us delicious snacks during their presentation: samosa, chex-mix like dish, pretzel-shaped dessert and mango juice (I apologize for not knowing some of the technical names for the food).

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Fifth stop: Mysore palace tour. A headphone-guided version was available, but we just did a walk-through. We followed masses of people in the maze-like tour through rooms filled with replicas, paintings, photographs, memorabilia, trinkets and statues. Cameras were not allowed inside. Not sure how exactly long it took, but I would guess around 30 minutes.

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Sixth stop: Café Aramane for lunch. Our group opted to sit in the air-conditioned room because the restaurant environment was smoky and humid. I sat with Nikki and Xhonela, and we shared two platters (one North Indian and the other South Indian).

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Seventh stop: A quaint art gallery with a lot of ancient paintings. Dr. Raj informed us that a lot of the paintings correlate with stories in the Hindu religion. A couple of us observed that exposed breasts were a theme in many of the artworks, and I think Taniqua bravely asked Dr. Raj what that was all about. He informed us that sari’s back then did not include a blouse because blouses are a western invention.

Eighth stop: Pantaloon store at the mall. The department store was so large that we didn’t have time to peruse the other stores in the mall. I was looking for some Indian-styled shirts/blouses, but didn’t come across any that was a good fit. I found a light blue and white patterned scarf for 249 rupees though!

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Headed back to hotel for an hour. Lindsey and I decided to chill in the lobby and asked for the hotel’s wifi password. My phone was extremely slow, so I eventually gave up on accessing the internet.

Ninth stop: Returned to the Mysore Palace to watch the light show. There was a story line behind the light show, but we could only guess what was happening because we didn’t know the local language, Kannada. A few minutes before the show ended, it started raining. Fortunately, as we were walking back to the entrance, we had the opportunity to see the palace all lit up in golden lights. Such a majestic sight.

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We walked about 10 minutes back to the hotel, which was quite an adventure. Imagine a group of 20 students crossing a wide and busy Indian-style intersection at night. Not to worry – we all survived! Haha. I got an adrenaline rush from the experience.

We had some time to kill before dinner, so several of us played “Would you Rather?” in the lobby using a question bank from the internet. The one question that struck a cord with me was “would you rather have a bell ring every time you are aroused? or feel a sharp pain in your side whenever someone says your name?” I was surprised that everyone agreed on the sharp pain, but I would choose otherwise (I didn’t get to voice my thoughts at the time). I’m going on a tangent/a little TMI, but life’s too short to live dishonestly with oneself or to be afraid to tell someone how you feel. I read this relevant quote a couple weeks ago:

IMG_5926I think this message can go beyond a romantic context (I know. I know. The question above used the word “aroused” but forget about that for a second). You can let your family and friends know that you love and care about them. We often take for granted the people we see frequently, so it’s never foolish to remind them of their value in your life. In the case of romantic relationships, if the love isn’t reciprocated, at least you tried and won’t have any regrets. Living with honesty and openness and welcoming candid conversations is extremely liberating. This is what it feels like to be human. I am working on this myself. #gettingoffthesoapbox

Multi-cuisine dinner buffet. We all sang for Adam’s birthday.

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For dessert, I was tempted to try some fruit because I was missing it in my diet, so I ate five small pieces of the assorted pineapple, watermelon and papaya. Ice cream is my weakness, so of course I had some for dessert also. The flavors were vanilla, mango and chocolate. I even went up for seconds.

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The concierge encouraged us to go to the discotech club right outside the hotel.

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As a collective group, we decided to check it out. We only had to walk one minute to see a couple men dressed in black shirts stamping people’s hands with the words “the room” in purple ink. We walked down the stairs to approach a coconut door.

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On the other side of the door was a neon green lit up path that led to the dance floor equipped with a disco ball and everything.

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There were “no smoking” signs plastered on the walls, which was nice. Techno music permeated the room. We stood relishing the sights and sounds for about ten minutes. We went back to our rooms in the hotel. Coincidentally, our room was one of the closest to the club, so Lindsey and I could hear the pulsating beats of the music well into the night, but it didn’t bother me. I showered, packed and went to bed. Stomach wasn’t feeling too well during the night. Suspected it was the fruit. I’m not sure if I mentioned why we shouldn’t eat raw vegetables and fruits here, but it’s because of the water and the different bacteria in it that our stomach might not be used to if we didn’t grow up in the country.