While in Evanston, I became increasingly involved in student activist movements that arose around important geopolitical processes that began soon after I began college. In addition to my pre-medical curriculum, I declared majors in Religion and Spanish language. These fields have proven important in my life and career, and I am grateful that I did not feel obligated to pursue other, more traditional pre-medical majors.
Ultimately, I decided to expand on my cross-cultural and language studies through a year of classes at Universidad de Chile in Santiago. For better or worse, the security of HPME permitted me to explore social spaces and interpersonal experiences in Santiago in a sincere, non-instrumental way that may not have been possible had I been worrying about the exigencies of medical school applications. By making time to volunteer several days a week in between classes, I developed close relationships with the boys in a home for social orphans in a poorer neighborhood. I became very close with two university professors with whom I began studying Chilean history and politics; during my second semester, they took me on as a teaching assistant at el Centro de Estudios Pedagógicos (the Universidad de Chile’s Center for Pedagogical Studies). Under the guidance of my professors, I began an intensive program of reading, writing and immersion in the lifeworlds constructed by Santiago’s indigent, gay population.
When I began medical school, the flexibility that I had enjoyed as an undergraduate had conditioned me to continue imagining how I might expand my training and life experience. I enrolled in the dual-degree MPH program and became involved as a student leader for Community Health Clinic, while also volunteering weekly as a HIV and STD test counselor and peer educator for an adolescent population, and devoting a considerable amount of my time to NU-AID’s on-going efforts to bolster their preventive and public health efforts.
I took two years off after finishing my 3rd year clerkships—the first I spent accompanying a group of indigenous community health workers in rural Guatemala, and the second, which is quickly drawing to a close as I write this, I have spent completing coursework towards a MA in Medical Anthropology at Harvard University. These two years have been incredibly enriching for me, and while they were not made possible directly by my status as HPME, the foundations I was able to build as an undergraduate have been fundamental in guiding and inspiring me to pursue career goals that I would not have been able to so much as imagine otherwise. Because I spoke fluent Spanish from my study abroad experience in Chile, I was able to focus on learning Kaqchikel Maya, the indigenous language spoken in the communities where I worked in Guatemala. This has been incredibly important to my understanding of the life experience of the poor Guatemalan indigene—not only because it is sometimes difficult or impossible to communicate with the most marginalized people in Spanish, but also because the effort expended in learning to speak Kaqchikel became a demonstration of an ethic of responsibility and solidarity with my friends, colleagues and other interlocutors. Also, the coursework I pursued as an undergraduate in Evanston and in Santiago—believe it or not—gave me an important introduction to social theory and historical political-economic analyses that I’ve been able to build upon in figuring out what might be my strategic contribution to clinical medicine, public health, and global health. Indeed, I have been re-reading many of the same philosophers and theorists in formulating my current research questions that I had used earlier—although this time it is primarily in English, and, I hope, I have been trained to be a more critical and positioned consumer of the literature.
At Harvard, I have had the incredible opportunity to work under some of the foremost leaders in global health and social medicine—people who I thought I would always simply idolize from afar are now affording me the opportunity to continue collaborating on exciting projects and research. It is, of course, difficult to attribute a socially constructed, coherent narrative to one particular educational decision. Nonetheless, in hindsight, HPME has opened up spaces—both practical and imaginative—that have become important for my personal meaning-making and life experience.