Looking back on the past ten weeks, I am amazed at how much my level of preparation for the CCESP has increased. When I first imagined the type of “preparation” LACS 20 would provide me, I thought purely in terms of intellectual preparation. For example, I thought that learning the political history of Nicaragua, the workings of its economy, the diversity of its various indigenous populations, and the basics of its healthcare system would sufficiently arm me to be an effective CCESP participant. I’m not surprised by my initial naïveté; almost every class at Dartmouth has only taught me didactic lessons to prepare me for an exam. However, LACS 20 is fundamentally different since its purpose was to prepare me for an experience. Accordingly, the most important preparation I have gained has not been from traditional readings, but rather from the people that LACS 20 has brought me into contact with.
It’s been an invaluable experience to be in a classroom full of nearly 30 like-minded students. My classmates have been a sounding board for the ideas we’ve discussed in class and have engendered thoughtful discussion. Also, I initially underestimated how beneficial it would be to get to know the other CCESP participants this fall before embarking on the trip. We’re all going to be thrown into an unfamiliar environment in Nicaragua, so I think the fact that we’ve already established a baseline level of comfort with each other will ease that transition considerably.
Being able to hear from guest speakers like Dr. Turco and Dr. Saunders was also vital to my preparation. Not only did they share intimate accounts of their experiences in Nicaragua in a very direct and candid manner (which I really appreciated), but I was also interested to see two very distinguished physicians who simultaneously engaged in both a traditional academic medical career at Dartmouth and also significant medical service abroad. I hope to integrate those two dimensions of medicine into my future career as a physician, so listening to their stories was particularly moving for me.
Finally, hearing from our friends from Nicaragua (members of Las hijas de maíz, the URACCAN students, and some Bridges to Community employees) was indispensible preparation for the CCESP from a cultural point of view. I was very interested to hear their perception of the United States, particularly how they said that although Americans may be better off materially, they lack true happiness and try to use material objects to achieve satisfaction, and that they would much rather live in Nicaragua because they’re proud of their country and heritage. Of course, the Nicaraguans I will meet in Hormiguero may feel differently, but having some sort of context of how I will be perceived by our hosts will be helpful on the trip.
Overall, I am extremely satisfied with how much LACS 20 has prepared me for the CCESP. However, I think that just as my conception of the CCESP has changed immeasurably from 10 weeks ago to the present, I’m sure my reflection on the trip after the fact will likewise be radically different than what I expect right now. I’m very much looking forward to once again having my preconceptions, stereotypes, and values challenged, because that kind of tumultuous experience will surely add to my character and teach me lessons that will endure for a lifetime.