New Learning Opportunities!

Hello! My name is Tricia and I’m a junior studying Sociology and Global Health at Northwestern. I will be updating this blog with stories, reflections, and thoughts from my time in Mexico City, but, for now, the thoughts swirling through my head as I sit here in Chicago will have to suffice.

To say the least, I am incredibly excited to participate in the Public Health in Mexico program at Universidad Panamericana (UP). I know that new experiences should be approached with an open mind and no expectations, but, due to the pre-departure workshops, the stories I’ve heard from my Mexican family, and the photo blogs I’ve been following, it has been incredibly difficult for me to resist envisioning what my life in Mexico City will be like. I mostly think about the knowledge I will obtain as a student at UP and how meaningful it will be for me as a person and as a future professional. For instance, in the History and Culture of Mexico course, I anticipate learning a lot more about my Mexican heritage. I look forward to supplementing the knowledge my parents have taught me with texts from class and cultural experiences outside the classroom. Hopefully, this newfound cultural knowledge will also translate into a better understanding of the immigrant Mexican community in Chicago. I intend to work closely with this community as a professional, whether that be through work in public health or as a physician, so I will wholeheartedly value any cultural lessons I may have missed growing up in America. I’m also very excited to take the public health courses simply because they align perfectly with my academic and professional interests. Studying the Mexican public health system while in Mexico will make for an unparalleled learning experience. I imagine it being far better than learning about it in a cold Evanston classroom. Overall, my mental image of my experience in Mexico entails amazing learning opportunities, and I intend to take full advantage of them during my time in Mexico City.

mexico-city-sightseeing-tour-in-mexico-city-136502

 

I’m Leaving Today???

It’s 12:00am 4/20, and in 15 hours my flight will depart for Mexico City, Mexico. Before leaving for my study abroad program, Public Health in Mexico, I decided to spend a week at home to spend time with family and friends. However, throughout that whole week I was constantly reminded that I was leaving for Mexico on Monday through conversations with my family and friends, but it never actually hit me that I was going to be spending eight weeks of my summer in a place that I had never ventured to before.

Yeah I took Spanish in college and in high school, but outside of the history and culture lessons on Mexico, I didn’t know much about the country. As I am sitting here typing this blog post, I can’t tell if I am feeling scared, anxious, or excited. To be honest, it is probably a mix of all three however it did not hit me that I was leaving so soon until I began packing. As I was trying to figure out which pieces of clothing would get left behind due to the limited size of my suitcase, I said to myself, “Yo, I’m leaving to Mexico tomorrow…”. I talked about what I was doing this summer almost all spring quarter but I kind of brushed off the significance of the experience. But here I am with racing thoughts going through my head, wondering if I have gotten everything I needed, or what I’m going to do with my first bit of free time? I guess I won’t know the answers to all these questions till I get there, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Mexico has in store.Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.22.23 AM

I’m Mexi-Can’t wait to get going

My name is Esai Orozco and I am a rising Senior at Northwestern studying Biological Sciences. This Summer ’16 I will be abroad in Mexico City (also known as D.F.) on the Public Health in Mexico program.

First off, I should mention that I am of Mexican and Japanese descent. The main reason why I chose this program over others like it, was because it would give me the best opportunity to learn my own culture while not being overly culture shocked. I have been to Mexico many times before, more specifically the highlands of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun. However, I have never visited D.F. and certainly have never been outside the country without my parents. I have experienced being away from my family in Los Angeles, CA for long periods of time, like when I left them 3 years ago to go to college. I was both homesick and culture shocked when I got to Northwestern University. Everybody from my hometown was Latino, so coming to this predominantly white and wealthy institution was crazy. I tried to fit in with the crowd and failed due to too many differences. For that short time, I cursed my upbringing. Fortunately soon after, I discovered the tight knit Latino community at the school that made me realize to appreciate my Mexican heritage. I was proud to be a “paisa.”

This summer, I will have the ultimate opportunity to continue learning more about my culture. My ultimate goal for the program is to become as comfortable with Spanish as I possibly can. I grew up speaking Spanish, however when I went to middle school where all my classes were taught in English, my language skills deteriorated quicker than the Mexican soccer fan base after the Copa America massacre by Chile. I speak well when I have to so I hope this program will push me further than I could ever do here in the U.S. My other goal in the program is to be able to take in the successful elements of the Mexican public health care system and implement some of their ideals to my future career. As an aspiring physical therapist, I want to improve our health care system as much as possible… since I know personally how backward it is sometimes. I believe learning and implementing effective ideas from Mexico, even though they are a “third world country” and “unhealthy,” would ultimately help our American society as a whole.

To conclude, I never thought in my college career (or life) that I would have the opportunity to study abroad. But thanks to the University… and their money, I am Mexico bound and am ecstatic to get going! Stay tune to more of my adventures as I explore my ancestors’ land.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 5.28.12 PM

Mixed emotions

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

In just a couple of days I will be leaving my beautiful city for a new adventure. I’ll leave behind my visits to North Avenue beach in exchange for field trips around Mexico City. I’m sure I’ll miss my family and friends but for now I just can’t wait to leave. The past couple of months I have been filled with excitement and curiosity. Getting to know all my fellow NU classmates and UP students who will also be with me in Mexico made everything seem more real. I will soon be checking off study abroad from my bucket list.

Yet as the day gets closer I can’t help but feel shaky. I keep thinking how this will be my first time traveling alone and I’m not sure what to expect in Mexico. I’m worried I will not have enough time to truly appreciate the city.

Despite my biggest fears, I’m excited to finally immerse myself into my family’s culture; to learn a little more about my family roots. Most importantly, I’m thrilled to meet my host family and begin our palliative care research project. I’m excited to be studying in a different institution where I will be able to use my fluent Spanish. Like everyone else, I am also counting down the days until I have authentic tacos and other Mexican food.

Public Health in Mexico: Pre-departure Orientation

Public Health in Mexico: Pre-departure Orientation

Mexico on my Mind…Always

photo(3)I’ve been back from Mexico for a while now, and I can safely say that while Mexico was on my mind occasionally before I studied abroad, it is now on my mind, always. That’s the beauty of these programs, because the on-the-ground experience of rooting yourself in a different country for multiple weeks makes it so that those roots will always stay with you, and can affect so many of the things we think about on the everyday basis.

 

 

 
I want to talk about the many small things that I loved about Mexico, because it’s always the nuanced things that tend to fall through the crack, but manage to touch our hearts the most. First, I met some wonderful people in Mexico. I had a host mom named Amalia who was like a grandma to me. She cooked the most amazing Mexican dishes for us. I lived with other people on the program, and I couldn’t help but feel like it was a real family every dinner. Dinners were lively, energetic, fun, and a cacophony of English, Spanish, broken English, broken Spanish, and Spanglish. Even through the language barriers, we were still a family and did things the Mexican way. We became friends with a girl who already lived in the house, and she took us around to the city and let us experience what local Mexicans experience. But my favorite times were our random late night talks about the worlds we come from, the things we have in common or don’t have in common, and about life in general. And even though my Spanishphoto(4) was poor, I somehow made wonderful human connections with people who I found were not so different from me. I went to many culturally rich places in Mexico, such as Chapultepec, Teotihuacan, Xochimilco, etc., but watching movies on reclining seats, going salsa dancing, bowling, karaokeing, ice cream tasting, etc. with our friends from the medical school at Universidad Panamericana was like the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

Just in class the other day, I realized exactly how lucky I was to be able to study abroad. The concepts that we talked about made that much more sense after going to Mexico and after experiencing first-hand some of those things. I found myself constantly reflecting on everything that I learned, touched, experienced, and felt in Mexico. I wasn’t thinking from the standpoint of just me, the girl from the United States anymore. I was thinking from the standpoint of me, the girl who has experienced a different world. I think all the time about the people I now care deeply about from that world and their lived experiences. My thoughts became integrative, and that’s when it hit me that Northwestern has succeeded in turning me into a better global citizen, one who recognizes when things are taken for granted. Humans can’t help but be ethnocentric sometimes, in the sense that we judge everything based on the values of our own cultures, but I’d like to think that going abroad has helped me become even less ethnocentric.

We take so many things for granted, such as clean water, and only when we are in a different place do we realize how others live their lives. In Mexico, the tap water is not safe to drink, and even though I knew that, I still had to constantly negotiate my surroundings and everything I knew to understand and adapt to these circumstances. I think that’s what being a global citizen is all about, proactively negotiating our surroundings and everything we thought we knew. Like a phoropter with all its lenses, I feel as if a lens of the global world around us has been added to mphoto(5)y own individual lenses, allowing me to perceive the world through a different frame. I mentioned in my first post that Mexico is a country that borders our country, but for a country so close and vital to the story of America, how much do we really know about it? Well, now I am more than aware that Mexico is not the drug-ridden, violent and war-torn country that the US paints it to be, but a country shaped by imperialism and its vast history. I am not saying that everything is peachy-keen here, because instability is wide-spread, but it is a country with wonderful people, values, and a culture worth experiencing. This lived experience has brought me to understand that it’s not me vs. them, but us now, and it is something I hope to keep in my life and all my undertakings in the future.

Since I’ve been gone…from Mexico

Sunny California

Well it is now September and school is starting up. In my family September signifies more than the start of school – it is the month Mexico gained its Independence. The 16th , according to my mom is called El Dia del Grito, the day of the shout. Everyone who celebrates this momentous day in Mexican history goes around shouting Viva Mexico! Although this day isn’t important to some, it holds much significance to my family. Not to mention having celebrated this day this year made me realize how much I miss Mexico City and life abroad. Although living in a Mexican household does much to remind of my time there, I still miss the deep history and friends I found this summer while studying in Mexico City. Upon arriving to California from my summer abroad, I was happy and excited to spend my remaining weeks in sunny California relaxing with family and friends.

However, I must admit, a part of me really missed Mexico. I missed waking up and walking to school with my peers every morning. I missed the small adventures my family in Mexico and I would have on a whim. It wasn’t hard adjusting to life in the U.S, however I must admit I do miss the easily accessible Oaxacan Hot Chocolate only our host mom, Amalia, knew how to make perfectly. One thing I can say is that studying abroad has really broadened my perspective on life and career interests. Although medicine is still something I enjoy learning and reading about, public health may be something I’d like to study and do in my life. Nonetheless, I really appreciate this summer abroad. Besides granting me knowledge of my roots and better understanding of my culture, this summer abroad has taught me that life is what you make it. There are many paths to certain careers. One just need to find their own, no matter how long it takes.

Final Thoughts and Reflections

Leaving Mexico at the end of my program was an unbelievably sad experience for me. Though it may have taken me a week or two to get adjusted, Mexico City really grew on me and I began enjoying everything it had to offer immensely. Ironically, the time I was enjoying it the most was also only a few days close to the end.

But like all good things, the Public Health program in Mexico had to come to a close. And back in the United States, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I learned from studying abroad.

Funnily enough, the two biggest takeaways for me arguably have little to do with each other. The first for me was understanding the flexible nature of how research can be conducted. Before coming to Mexico, I had in my mind an underlying assumption that research, at least most of the time, was conducted in a lab wearing a white labcoat. Coming to Mexico and taking part in the Malinalco biostatistics analysis demonstrated to me that research is extremely diverse and can encompass numerous fields, methods, and topics. Math and field surveys can be just as informative and as useful as mixing chemicals together, and taking part in that research has opened my eyes and broadened my horizons in searching for future opportunities in public health, or even research at large.

The other takeaway is more of a personal issue that applies to my life as a whole, and that’s my social life. I have to admit that before I went on this program, I was a very isolated and solitary individual who mostly kept to himself, his studying, and the internet. Coming to this program and regularly interacting with both the rest of my NU friends and the UP medical students have showed me just how exciting, fun, and meaningful extensive social interaction can be. I only have one year left in NU, but because of my experiences I have made a promise to myself to be more social and more open to others when I step back into university life. There’s little doubt in my mind that coming to Mexico has changed my perspective and how I think about the world around me for the better, and now it is up to me to convert those lessons into bettering my life.

Public Health in Mexico Final Picture

Mexico in a New Light

It’s been nearly a month since I said goodbye to my friends and host family in Mexico City and returned to the United States. While I will surely miss the spicy food and wonderful people, it’s comforting to be back in Evanston with the prospect of a busy and exciting fall quarter.

In the past few weeks I’ve had time to digest my experiences from this crazy summer. I found studying abroad in Mexico to be incredibly enlightening for many reasons. Before leaving the United States, whenever I mentioned studying abroad in Mexico, many people would respond with “Ooh, I’ve been to Cancun and it’s beautiful!” or something of a similar fashion. I did not talk to a single person who had ever visited Mexico other than to stay at a vacation resort. In fact, I noticed that the American perception of Mexico is extremely flawed and short-sighted. Our media tends to portray the country as a war-zone, with drug cartels killing innocent civilians left and right and migrants fleeing into the United States to escape poverty and violence. While violence and drugs are undoubtedly an issue in Mexico, many people lack the vision of the country I gained after studying abroad.

The people I met in Mexico were all extremely welcoming. Many of them were pursuing an education just like myself, and wanted to devote their careers to building a better Mexico that alleviates poverty, bolsters education, and improves the living conditions of all its citizens. The violence portrayed in the American media seemed to be minimal and localized in areas where drug cartels have the most influence (states bordering the US and the Pacific). The crime was no more severe than what one would witness in any major American city. Overall, the American perception of Mexico was simply not accurate.   

I also gained some important insights into the public health system of the country while studying abroad. As our southern neighbor, the public health of Mexico is influenced by and impacts the health situation in the United States, especially with the recent migration of many Mexican immigrants into the US. It is not a coincidence that two of the countries with the highest rates of obesity in the world are neighbors. Mexico deals with health problems similar to those in the United States. Chronic, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease dramatically increase the cost of health care in the country. The US can no longer pretend that the health condition of Mexican citizens and migrants is not our problem when our economies are so heavily intertwined.

Finally, I noticed that in tackling the public health problems, Mexico has other issues it needs to address to improve the health situation. While we spent most of our trip in Mexico City, where nearly a third of the country’s population resides, we also visited the rural area of Malinalco. Rural populations tend to be marginalized, experience greater levels of poverty, and their access to health care is secondary to those who live in the capital state. With half the country’s population living below the poverty level, Mexico has a long way to go in bringing equitable living conditions and access to quality medical care to all of its citizens.

Overall, my time in Mexico was an amazing experience and I would not have wanted to study anywhere else. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn about a country that is important to the United States while also practicing my Spanish skills. Now that I’m back home, I look forward to using my experiences this summer to educate people about the truth of Mexico. I hope that my insight will combat the stigma against Mexicans so that our countries can continue working together to create a better life for citizens of both countries.

20499751968_8d4b08faae_o

Help and Do No Harm

photo(2)
One of the highlights and most exciting aspects of this program was the research. Every week, I’d look forward to going to the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Medicas y Nutricion Salvador Zubiran, which was in the center of a bustling and lively neighborhood. We conducted research at CAIPaDi, which is a center for comprehensive care of patients with diabetes, comprehensive being the key word! Diabetes is a growing global epidemic, but it is a prominent issue in Mexico that affects around 12% of the population, and is intertwined with so many other areas of health such as chronic kidney disease.

At CAIPaDi, the approach to tackling the diabetes problem is through a truly comprehensive empowerment of the patients. It is a great model and step towards preventative care and informed self care. Throughout the four visits over a span of four months, there are 9 different stations that patients must participate in, including: endocrinology, psychiatry, psychology, foot care, ophthalmology, nutrition, diabetes education, physical activity, and odontology. As patients make their rounds through each station, they get to attend both individual and group sessions with the doctors that specialize in each field and with other diabetic patients. We had a chance to sit in on many of these stations. I found this program to be refreshing and enlightening, because a combination of interventions really is needed for holistic care in the combat of diabetes. Also, it is especially meaningful for the patients to feel empowered, because there is nothing more powerful and motivating than knowing that you can make a change in your own well-being.

My experience at CAIPaDi was eye-opening, in a way that being in class could never show me. We worked with the doctors to initiate a clinical research project about the socioeconomic status of the patients at CAIPaDi, in hopes of better understanding the outside factors that could affect how they take care of themselves. And in turn, we hoped that we could find something that could help us level the playing field for the diabetic patients, especially amidst the huge disparities in Mexico. We made our own survey and administered it to the patients. The fun part was that this was all done in Spanish! Although it was intimidating at first, I realized that these challenges reflect the everyday components of the job, because communication and connection are just as important as the care of patients itself. We also had the chance to make impactful digital messages and simple games for the patients regarding foot care, eye care, and hypoglycemia, to provide them with more self-care tools. At the end, we were able to compile the data and even present to all the health professionals who worked at CAIPaDi! Bonus point: the presentation itself was in Spanish!

But the part that I valued most about this experience was the chance to interact with both the doctors and the patients, and to understand each of their stories. As I learned of the circumstances of each of the patients, it was like being given puzzle pieces to add to their whole story. It was also truly a joy to be able to shadow and work with our mentors Dr. Hernandez and Dr. Ulloa, because they supported us every step of the way and pushed us to really embrace different points of view. As doctors, they were adaptable, flexible, caring, and especially integrative. One of my favorite memories is eating Fiber One bars together every afternoon there, because that’s what patients could do to prevent hypoglycemia. So not only did they empower the patients, they empowered themselves and us too. I realized that in the field, not only do you learn, but you also feel, act, think, and connect in a way that takes you out of your comfort zone and motivates your work. These last few weeks of research have brought me closer to understanding what it means to help and do no harm, and what it means to enjoy what you do!
photo(1)

 

My Friends in Mexico, the Very Best

When it comes to my study abroad experience, without a doubt some of the most important people in my life throughout the entire 8 weeks were the medical students from Universidad Panamericana. They were my main link connecting me with Mexican culture, and without them it would have taken me a lot longer to integrate to Mexico and the experience as a whole would be so much lonelier without them. From advice regarding the program itself to where the best places to hang out were during the weekends, the students became very valuable friends in such a short time and were incredibly awesome in showing us how to maximize my enjoyment in Mexico.

Several of my favorite moments and social outings in Mexico were only possible because they arranged them. After a long week of studying and doing research, they gave us exactly the breaks that I needed. I still remember the day that they took us to a karaoke bar, and my friends (both from NU and from Mexico) and I spent the entire night singing and dancing without a care in the world. And after that night, they took us to a famous Taco restaurant where we treated us to some of the best tacos I’ve ever had. That was one of the best nights in Mexico I’ve had this entire program, and they kept the excitement going weeks later with a night of salsa dancing (to put what we learned in salsa class to practice) and bowling night a few days later. None of this would have been possible without them, and for that I am forever grateful.

Even though we may have spent such a short time together, I will never forget the friends that I made and what they’ve done for me during this program. Adolfo, Montse, Fer, Andres, Anneke, Hilda, if you’re reading this, thank you for everything!

PH Mexico Final Goodbye