Apr 22, 2013

Senior Speech Series: Navel-gazing & Connections in the Student Momentum

Three incredible GlobeMed seniors took the stage at the closing dinner of the 2013 GlobeMed Global Health Summit to share their heartfelt reflections on their experience in GlobeMed and how it’s shaped their place in the world. Over the next few days we’ll be posting their speeches on our blog, starting with Michelle Truong of GlobeMed at UT-Austin.


Michelle Truong
GlobeMed at UT-Austin

The other day I was reading a journal article for my evolution class. It was discussing competing theories on the exact definition of a species and I was falling asleep until the line, “We are in an intense period of navel-gazing!” Navel-gazing is defined as excessive introspection and is something our generation, the millennials, is often criticized for doing — just endlessly pondering life while we delay graduation and wander around in circles. The reason why we can be characterized as such navel-gazers is because I think, more than ever, we have so many opportunities as a highly educated and connected generation. It makes sense we often navel-gaze to try to figure out our role. For most of us here, metaphorically peering into our navels has led us to find a desire to contribute positive change in the world. Then the questions start: How can I do that? Where do I begin? Who do I talk to? What should I do? Is that belly button lint? But this is where GlobeMed comes in. When we start to gaze outward instead of inward, we can see that we are all thinking the same thing and asking the same questions. We come to realize how our connections can fuel the change we seek to enact. To me, this is the student momentum. But a little bit more about this momentum later.

My evolutionary biology class also got me thinking about my evolution as a person during college. As a freshman in a sea of 50,000 students at UT, I tried to find my niche but did not feel any meaning or significance. Fortunately one day at the beginning of my sophomore year, I was on Facebook and saw a post about joining some organization called GlobeMed. It intrigued me so I went to an information session held by Olivia Koshy, applied, got accepted, joined, learned, talked, discussed, questioned, traveled, cried, hugged, laughed, and grew a lot.

That cascade of events sparked GlobeMed to become integral in my life. Getting the privilege to go on our chapter’s first GROW trip to Guarjila, El Salvador with Ruby and Ryan is something I will never forget. The GROW trip was an intensely visceral experience in its entirety. It was the first time I traveled out of the country without my family and we didn’t even know who was going to pick us up at the airport in San Salvador. The nervousness did not hit me until I found myself throwing up in the bathroom at the Miami airport just before our connecting flight took off for El Salvador. This anxiety quickly dissipated after we landed and saw a woman smiling and waving vigorously at us. Although this was our first time meeting Marlene Cruz, the head nurse of our partner clinic, I felt instantly at home. I’m sure y’all have all experienced this instantaneous feeling of connection in some sense, like the first time you heard your partner’s voice or connected with someone at Summit. No matter how small the moment may seem, it lays the foundation for true partnership.

It really hit me just how deep of a connection was established on our last night before leaving El Salvador. We went over to Marta’s house to say thank you and good bye. Marta was the woman who ran the comedor where we ate meals every day. She is an extremely kind but very quiet woman who hardly spoke to us more than necessary. That night however, Marta, realizing that we were leaving in the morning, sat us down outside on her porch, took out a box of old photos and started telling stories. She left few stones unturned, talking about the bloody civil war, her broken family, her plans years before to illegally move to the United States, but her decision to stay in Guarjila for her daughter Lupe. It was a big wake-up call for me because I knew Marta trusted us with this moment of vulnerability. Through tears she shed this weight, giving us a piece of her life. This moment with Marta is just one example illustrating a genuine human connection. Shuffle through your memory and you’ll find that each of you have a certain Marta in your life, somebody you have connected with who changed your perception of the world in some way to motivate change. It may have been awhile ago, or just a few hours ago.

Connections… This is the power of the student momentum. We are so highly connected such that research has shown what your friend’s friend’s friend does will end up influencing you in some way, whether or not you’re aware of it. This research states that on average, each one of us has three degrees of influence so that whatever we say or do will ripple through our social networks and impact those at least three degrees removed from us. Just imagine the sheer power of this. There are about 300 students at Summit, each one with three degrees of influence. But you have your entire chapter back home, so that’s about 2000 students with three degrees of influence. But wait! Don’t forget your partners, 50 organizations in 19 countries, all of them having on average three degrees of influence too. I am not good at math but I know that with GlobeMed alone, we hold in our hands the power to shape the future. Actually, we don’t need math to make this conclusion because it’s already happening, every day on campus, Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs, in El Salvador, Peru, Uganda and sooner than you think, every nook and cranny of the world.

GlobeMed at UT-Austin experienced our degrees of influence with our Personal Network Campaign. Simply through letter-writing, emailing and conversation during this past holiday season, we raised nearly $10,000 for our partner clinic. This type of connection even happened to me at a bar during spring break with a friend’s friend. Within five minutes, a full-blown conversation about global health was taking place over beers and the beats of Ke$ha with someone I just met. These bonds can happen anywhere if we are open to it and we can learn so much from the people we encounter because each of us has something unique to offer. Without the tangibility of the genuine connections we make here at Summit, on campus, or with just anyone we talk to, global health equity will just remain a theoretical goal. When we find commonalities and embrace different perspectives, we build connections that serve as the momentum to make this theoretical goal into a reality.

Right now we are college students in GlobeMed. All weekend we’ve felt these connections forming and the power of the student momentum. But what about when we are not college students anymore? What happens when we no longer have a structured meeting every week when we get to hang out and have deep discussions with our super passionate friends? Would we be different people with different goals because we aren’t going to GlobeMed functions anymore? No—this would be impossible. A few lines from a poem by Daryl Hine illustrate what I mean by this: “Time’s one-way traffic won’t reverse summer’s sentimental course or force the headlong universe perversely backwards to its source. Reverting to the title page cannot erase a book once read.” The point of a momentum is starting something for continuity. What we’ve learned, experienced and shared in GlobeMed is just the beginning. If you take this beginning and let it morph into momentum for life, the fire initially ignited by that first GlobeMed “a-ha” moment will never die. This little “a-ha” moment will grow with our idealism and connections yielding creativity and innovation needed in this movement to achieve
global health equity.

Never have I had an opportunity more appropriate than now to repeat the motto we have at UT-Austin: “What starts here changes the world.”

Written by Michelle Truong, Co-President of GlobeMed at UT-Austin


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