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It Wasn't a Dream... (Personal Reflection)


I've been home for a week now, and that means away from Ghana for a week. It's given me time to reflect on this experience and the impact it has made on me. It would be an understatement to say it was a just a life changing experience. I have been tried and tested in ways I have never encountered. I have fallen madly in love with a stunning culture that I have realized is not so different to mine. I have discovered things about myself I never knew and I experienced immense growth mentally and emotionally. But more than anything I have not only confirmed my goal of becoming a physician in global health, but also evolved and expanded that goal.

Before leaving for Ghana I was apprehensive and nervous about living in such a different culture. I had never been to Africa, I grew up in a majority white community, what have I gotten myself into? I prepared myself with current events and cultural research. Planning to try and create my own bubble of comfort amongst this unfamiliar environment. However, once I was there I soaked it all in. I sought out familiarity within Ghanaian culture rather than trying to retreat into familiarity. I was shocked at how easy it was for me to embrace this new culture, I never knew I was capable of being so open-minded. I did not have the traditional culture shock, I don't remember a period of ever being at a low. The only thing that took long to adjust is my appearance as a Chinese-American, there was quite a lot of ignorance about my appearance. I was always surprised at how patient I was about the names I was called. Eventually I learned to accept that people will behave one way and my role as an individual will not change their cultural upbringing. The only thing I could do was control my reaction and try and use my presence to broaden their perspective, if only just a little. I truly feel that putting myself out there to embrace every aspect of Ghanaian culture, positive and negative, allowed me to appreciate the culture so much more. Things I was uncomfortable about doing, like eating with my hands, was only uncomfortable in my head. It is not weird to eat with your hands and get messy, so just do it! Get out of your head! It's human nature to always associate with familiarity, but I've learned how that can end up holding us back.

Going into all of this I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. I knew I wanted to do global health. I thought I knew what my career would look like. This experience put into perspective the reality of my chosen career. It's not all clear cut medicine and science. It's also social factors, culture, and systems. I can't simply know how to practice medicine, not in global health. It requires an understanding of the life the patient lives and all of their influences. It took a long time for me to accept the way medicine is practiced in Ghana. It took even longer to appreciate physicians who navigate all of the messy, intertwined dimensions that contribute to one's wellbeing. Having lived and loved this country I see a future in Ghana, working to improve its medical technology and continuing to help standardize their healthcare. But I also have seen a future working with communities, social welfare, and education systems to make lifestyles healthier. My perspectives have forever shifted and it has only solidified my goals of practicing medicine holistically.

My time living in Ghana and navigating a brand new lifestyle taught me a lot about myself and my own capabilities. Accepting and appreciating a new culture and its people has exposed me to more facets of healthcare. Stepping back and living a more simple life has really put into perspective inequities within the world. I have a deep desire to serve people and give back to the world what it has given me. And once again I have this thought, why have I been so fortunate when others, more deserving than I, work so hard to just get by? It is immensely humbling to see the beauty of Ghanaian culture, to see so many people happy for what they have and not unhappy over what they do not have. I have been forever impacted by my new friendships and my new perspective from this experience. I feel like it was just a wonderful dream, but it wasn't. It's a dream I can go back into and I have every intention of doing so.

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