You may be thinking that this blog post is about my regrets of not travelling to another country for my stretch experience. As much as this isn’t a lie, it’s also not the most accurate representation of what I wanted to share with you all. Like many other PLLC scholars this summer entering their fourth year of their degree, summer 2017 was loaded with past and new projects. I finished finals with a deep breath to erase the past three weeks of below par living choices just for that GPA. Looking forward, summer 2017 spelled new adventures: writing the MCAT, completing my research project from last summer, taking a spring course so I can graduate, hitting goals at the gym, completing my stretch experience, …. do you see what I’m getting at?
Staying in Edmonton for our stretch experiences was a constructive decision: we want to do it all. We want to complete that internship that will get us into whatever next degree, we want to graduate in four years, we want to touch the sky. We look at these four months of “no school” and construct the most exhausting schedule of school, work, friends, volunteering, you name it. As little logic as that holds, we shouldn’t blame ourselves. It’s an interesting debate that I go through every morning on my LRT ride to the university. I could become more realistic with my limitations and respect that some of my endeavours will just have to be put on hold. However, I also look at my peers and begin the downward spiral of comparing myself to others. By the time I’ve come to the logical conclusion that success is relative to the individual, it’s too late. I’ve already signed up for everything and it’s July and honey the show must go on. These first few paragraphs are just a few thoughts I’ve shared with so many PLLC scholars completing their stretch experiences in Edmonton.
All this talk about stretch experiences and yet my lovely reader still doesn’t have an idea of what mine is all about. My stretch idea was a combination of separate ideas and past experiences that have been brewing for a year after I had to end my two year volunteer experience at the Mustard Seed in Edmonton. My time with the Seed gave me the chance to work with inner city individuals who worked with me more than I ended up serving them. There was collaboration, shared smiles and stories, and an intention to help one another with what we have. I thought: I’ve been so conditioned by societal norms that the demographic of humans I was interacting with wouldn’t be interested in talking to a privileged, university student. But clearly this wasn’t the case! I became inspired, and started to think of creating a program that would bridge students at the University of Alberta with the Mustard Seed in creating long term relationships through community involvement. Working through my proposal after meeting with various mentors and Dr. Martin Ferguson-Pell: I was excited for the months to come.
Well the months did certainly come and I found myself in Paula Cornell’s office, the Community Programs Manager at the Mustard Seed. It was 8am and we were going through my proposal of my program (“The Empathy Project”). I was quickly realizing an old gut feeling. Paula didn’t hold back when she told me that my project deemed itself unethical, selfish, and an exploitation of the community. That gut feeling was exactly what Paula was telling me: that my focus was about creating something for others based off my own ideas, not theirs. I broke down in her office, barely having a breath to tell her how sorry I felt. Here I was trying to build an empathy project but then I submit an unethical proposal. The rest of the meeting was more of a therapy session, where I knew that after all these mistakes the best I could do was be completely honest with Paula. The meeting ended, I cried more in my parked car, and sent her an apology email by the end of the day. Paula also recommended a book for me before I left, which I read in that same week. Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton: a book about how so many people fall trap into doing more harm than good in charity and how we can fix it. Reading this book, I realized that I knew these things. I knew that doing for those in need what they can do themselves simply disempowers them. I knew that “it is far better to enter the community as a learner than an initiator”. Or at least I knew I would definitely agree with all these statements. However, my first idea for a stretch experience went against all that knowledge. It took an embarrassing and ironic flop for me to begin trusting my gut feelings. All in all, my brewing ideas for a program had finally bubbled over as a failure. But all was well: I already felt myself stretching from this.
What am I doing now? I’m figuring it out.
My stretch transformed into my research project where I’m characterizing the changes in blood cytokines in pregnant women with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). A bunch of scientific lingo that basically means I’m trying to figure out how pregnant women can prevent their chronic disease from affecting their pregnancy. This has been the most complicated project that I have ever volunteered for and every day I realize I know so little in this world. Research takes patience, it takes a lot of prodding in the dark. My project is one of five sub-studies that share the same 160 study patients but have completely different study questions. If I had to take a university course group project and expand it over four months and then pump it with artificial hormones and steroids, then I would get the project I’m working on right now.
Like I said, if you decided to stay in Edmonton you’ve realized that you’re an optimist yet you’re also a major try-hard. You want to do it all! You have four months and no school. HELLO OPPORTUNITY! Time to work hard and play harder. The sun is out and campus is empty but you’re here every day. No one can stop you. The high is euphoric and lasts a total of two weeks before you begin to feel the stretch. Except you’ve expanded your stretch experience to include so much more than just your stretch experience.
And so, I leave you (and myself included) with this quote to reflect upon:
“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.” -Unknown