Essay by Thomas McHale
CIEE Community Public Health – Spring 2012
University of Botswana Gaborone, Botswana
How should I be in relation to others? What is my place in the world? Ultimately, the question I am asking is 'who am I?'
In my Junior year of college I decided that medicine seemed to be the most compelling path for me to pursue, but I was still deeply aware that I did not yet fully understand my calling in life or what my true desires really were. Because of this, I decided that I needed to challenge myself with some experience outside of Nebraska that would expose me to realities of the world that I had not yet been confronted with. After much exploration, I decided that a study abroad experience would be the best way for me to find what I was looking for. Through the CIEE organization I found a program called Community Public Health in Botswana. After reading the description, I knew that this was exactly what I was looking for. Nearly 6 months after departing, I have now had the time to reflect on how this experience really affected my life.
There were two major aspects of my time in Botswana that have shaped my current aspirations. Firstly, and most importantly was the immersion I experienced into the medical world. Botswana is a particularly unique place to study medicine due to the public health issues that affect the society and culture. With the country carrying the second highest prevalence of HIV infection in the world, our program earnestly studied how this disease has affected the entire Southern African region. This immersion into healthcare for a full semester, while living in the remarkable country of Botswana allowed me to truly assess why I wanted to go into healthcare. As a biochemistry and microbiology major, I wanted to be sure that I would be able to truly carry out the responsibilities of a humane caregiver in medicine, while utilizing my scientific interests to the extent that they complement caregiving. My experiences in Botswana, from seeing a young woman suffering from AIDS related wasting syndrome to seeing a mother's refusal to get out of the bed of her sick child, have confirmed my devotion to the humanistic care of medicine informed by, but not governed by, scientific theory and progress.
There is no doubt that my experience in Botswana was a pivotal point in my life. The relationships I formed, both through my program and with local Batswana were some of the most intimate I have ever made. I learned to love a country, the name of which I would not even have recognized only a few short months ago. Ultimately, words inevitably fall short in describing what occurred in the past 6 months of my life. This was truly an experience that can only be lived.