Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Welcome to the friendly island!

Yesterday I arrived with my Yiayia in tow at Princess Juliana Airport on the Dutch side of St. Martin. Saturdays must be one of the busiest days for air travel on the island, because there was a whole lot going on at the airport.
Before getting here I thought I had set up a car rental with a reputable company, but it turns out I did not- we waited over an hour for someone to come and pick us up (who never did), and eventually talked to some locals who arranged a rental car for us with Unity Rentals. I had 2 large duffel bags, 1 large suitcase, and one bicycle box, so we needed something a little larger than a car; we ended up with a Toyota Rav4, which is perfect for our needs, for $280/week.
After getting settled into the rental car, we rode to Porto Cupecoy, the complex my roommate and I chose to live in. She had told me how wonderful it is, and, man, she was not kidding. The complex is situated just on the edge of the Dutch border on the far west end of the island. It is gated as you drive up, has a large grocery store inside its walls, and has numerous additional gates for residents. The style of the buildings is European, and the development is supposed to feel like something out of the French Riviera. There is a large plaza in the middle overlooking the marina and Simpson Bay. My apartment is in the quieter east side of the complex, just overlooking a row of sailboats and the plaza to my left. I couldn't have been more impressed at the quality of everything inside, from the high end furniture, to the construction, to the spaciousness of the condo. There are even Viking appliances in the kitchen. The amenities include a beautiful pool, tennis courts, lush gardens, and a workout space. There are also 4 restaurants within the complex, making it convenient for us to run out and grab a meal without even leaving.
Upon arrival, Yiayia was worn out, so when she laid down to nap I chose to go out and explore a little. It was quite nostalgic for me- the day I arrived in Australia, exhausted from long travel but wide awake because of excitement, I asked directions and walked into Wollongong from my dorm, reveling in my independence and freedom. I still remember the  spring in my step as the sun shined down and I waltzed down the street, enjoying the sights and sounds of a new place and trying to remember all the little details, before I knew there was actually a free bus (that I would end up taking on all trips in the future). In the same way I eagerly anticipated the start of my semester in Australia, I drove yesterday eagerly anticipating the start of my next two years in St. Martin. I thought about how when I saw the barbed wire at the airport it really dawned on me that this place would be called home, and for a minute I felt some trepidation (a feeling I have felt before, specifically in downtown Shanghai, China... solved by a trip to Pizza Hut and some beer). However, as I watched, I found more sights I could call familiar... I noticed Mormon missioners, lost in the crazy traffic , in their white shirts and ties- a sight I guess that is now familiar all over the world. I heard Backstreet Boys blaring as I passed by small corner shops- what I know as 'bodegas' in NYC. I noticed Pizza Huts (they must be everywhere!), and KFCs, and also hole-in-the-wall Chinese places. I smelled salty air and felt an ocean breeze  (which I have to think must be a universally comforting sensation), and let myself enjoy the windows-rolled-down, summer-all-the-time weather that will be mine for this next season of my life. 
My first lesson of this land: late afternoon on a Saturday in St. Martin is not a good time for shopping. Actually, very few stores are open here on Sundays, holidays, or evenings.  This convenience that we exploit over in the US of A is just not relevant here, as everything basically seems to shut down completely during these times.  Some of the shutdowns this weekend have been due to Carnival, a big annual event that happens here on St. Maarten every year at the end of April until early May.  Islanders from Sint Maarten and the surrounding island come and celebrate culture, color, and festivities. There are pageants among the local women, one day of the celebration is a national holiday for the Dutch side, and there is plenty of revelry and fun.  So, all I got accomplished was some basic grocery shopping- eggs, almond milk, bread, toilet paper, and diet coke. The grocery prices actually surprised me as reasonable! The Grande Marche even offered plenty of sale items  to choose from. However, some things are very expensive, like Tide ($30 for a large jug), and cosmetics/ladies products. The stores here use Gilders, but the price tags also list the Euro and USD costs as well. It really helps you get a good feeling for how the prices all relate to one another, and how relative things cost to one another.
Since today was Sunday things were even more shut down than yesterday afternoon, but Yiayia and I did manage to have a fun and productive day.  Midmorning we started our drive over the island exploring  westward towards the French border. There are quite a few secluded beaches spread around this side of the island, and it does feel rather remote. As we continued to navigate around, we ended up going in a French grocery store, which was cleaner and better kept than Grand Marche, but everything was in French and Euros, so it was a little pricier than the Dutch side. Pretty quickly we found ourselves  in Marigot, and then before I knew it Grand Case. The drive really wasn't all that scenic from Cupecoy to Grand Case. From Grand Case we headed back into Philipsburg, where we decided we should look for internet. Unfortunately the place I chose to live did not have internet set up and since the process takes some time, Yiayia and I were really stuck with no connection home. We found ourselves in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, and set off to find the McDonalds, a tried and trusty choice for free Wifi. She is pretty quick, though, and before I knew it she had gone into Effy Jewelry store and asked them to use their phone and Wifi. Since she had been a past customer there, they were happy to oblige, so we called and caught up with home on their lines. I had also been looking frantically all day for somewhere I could buy a phone SIM card so that I could use phone internet for our connection needs until my house wifi gets hooked up. They sent me to Music Man, a store on front street, and I got my Verizon iPhone all set up for use in St. Martin with a new St. Martin number. YAY!

Before heading home, we stopped by a store that was (miraculously)open and bought a fan for my condo, a hamper (surprisingly expensive), an air mattress on sale, and some organizers for my things. The home goods are a little more expensive here than home, especially things like rugs, trash cans, and kitchen accessories. I have really enjoyed nesting in my new place, so much that I haven't been to the beach or pool yet! Those things are not on my to-do list until Tuesday...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

20 days 'til Paradise (and studying!)

So, here I am, 22 days out from moving to Sint Maarten to begin medical school. Pretty darn surreal.

There is so much to do between now and then... Decisions to make about what to pack, how to assemble my immigration packet, details about the [terrifying] loans I am about to commit to, whether my family will accompany me, and my living situation are all on the table, making me feel a little anxious.  As I frantically shuffle around in an attempt to get all these things organized for the big move, I am slowly realizing that I may feel these little tinges of inner chaos for awhile... Probably until I am settled into a routine on the island. Maybe even after that, until I am in my fifth semester on the island, finally comfortable and settled in, and it's time to move back to America. Who knows?
My heart tells me I am meant to be there, studying the human body and learning about how I can contribute to the health of other people. It feels right.
It felt right in November, when I attended the open house to learn about what the school could offer me. It felt right in December, when my family went and toured the AUC campus (including the new building) in Sint Maarten. It feels right now, as I brace myself for moving away from everything and everyone I know and hold so dearly, and embark on a new adventure that will be my med school experience.

There have been more practical matters than I can count to get in order.

Today, I signed up for Google Voice. It allowed me to pick a number based in the US (I couldn't find any 843 numbers, so I got one from Jackson, WY :) ) so that anyone calling from the US will not be charged long distance. You set a 'forwarding' number with Google Voice so that anyone who calls your google number will be forwarded on to your real number (which makes me wonder, do you pay for it through Google Voice AND your forwarded line?). On Wifi, you can call US numbers while you are international for $.01/minute. I will also be able to make local Sint Maarten calls for $.15/minute, much cheaper than the SIM card plans on the island. Google Voice is a cheaper alternative to Vonage. I am still looking into Magic Jack, and today, Facebook just announced that their Messenger app can make VoIP (Voice-over-IP). With all these communication options, including good ol' Skype, I am sure I will be able to easily keep in touch with everyone at home.

The immigration process onto Sint Maarten isn't complicated (not surprising, since they allow thousands of cruise ship tourists and workers to debark every day). I had to submit a letter from my county deeming me non-criminal, send in a copy of my whole passport book, and a notarized copy of my birth certificate. Additionally, you must submit some health records- proof of immunization to Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varciella, Polio, Diptheria, and also proof that I test negative for TB and HIV.

My packing process has been fairly seamless- as of today, I have already packed several boxes (to be shipped from Jacksonville by Crowley Shipping for under $150), and I have packed one checked bag (I will have 4 bags on the plane total).  The only things I have left to pack are [some] clothes and my makeup.... theoretically.
However, my momma's motto is to be prepared, "Take enough for 20 months, Victoria." So, I am thinking I will end up with a few more boxes.

Wondering what I am taking? Here is a little list:
Bathing suits and coverups!
1 pair of jeans
Lots of maxi dresses (cool, cute, and comfortable; will mean I don't always look like a [college] bum...)
A few 'professional' outfits- one dress, khaki capris and heels, a few nice tank tops
PJ's, 'loungewear' (nice term for my bum attire), and athletic clothes

Personal Items:
Hair products galore (b/c I am determined to contain the humid island frizz hair problem)
Fluffy bedding, with king size fluffy mattress pad and some pillows (I may be picky about bedding...)
PLENTY of SPF- if sunscreen is $10 a bottle here, imagine what it costs there.
Lotions, anti-aging creams (due to all the sun exposure), and face wash
Extra cotton rounds, disposable razors, floss, and the like
Small first aid kit, including nausea, allergy, and cold meds
3 Bath towels
2 king sheet sets with extra pillowcases

Office supplies:
notebooks, pencils, pens, stationary (b/c I 'plan on' embracing the handwritten note), laser printer (heavy & takes some planning- since I am a hardcopy studier I plan on using A LOT of paper notes), stapler, wifi router, book light, bookshelf in a box from Walmart, power strip, dry erase board

Little necessities:
extra batteries, candles, snorkel gear, beach towel, bug spray!!, Tide PODS (I have been spoiled...), mounting tape for photos/posters, pop-up clothes hamper, door hooks, hair cut kit (will save me money in the long-run)

Seasoning packets (Hidden Valley ranch, Taco Bell taco, onion soup, fried rice, beef bouillon, etc)
Ramen noodles/Mac N'Cheese/whole grain pasta
Whey Protein powder
Microwave popcorn
Peanut Butter, Ritz Crackers
Olive oil
Hand blender

Some health food stuff from Momma (since I have read it is a premium price in Sint Maarten):
Shacklee Protein Shakes and Meal Bars (I have thought a lot about eating while in school realized in college I couldn't/didn't ever find a routine for mealtimes, which we all know is a healthier way to dine b/c you can plan meals and avoid unhealthy choices- theoretically.  Shakes might help me find time for certain meals throughout the day b/c of their convenience.)
Vitamins ('Zeal' shakes and ReViva)

I am taking suggestions, too, for other items I may need!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Growing Pains and Gains

Well, it begins again… Soon, I will headed to study in a new foreign place. Familiar, huh? However, a lot has changed since my fabulous and frivolous semester abroad in Australia (that I wouldn’t change at all!), and I am in a different place in my life, especially with my educational goals.
As a young college student, I originally shuffled into biology because I knew I liked science, and, honestly, I liked the idea of being in the hardest major. I had no idea what I wanted to do with a Biology degree, but at the time adamantly refused to consider medicine. Reasons like the time it takes, the money it takes, and the sheer effort invested into a medical education made me quiver. Until, by chance, I ended up in this interim of medical internships. As a preface, usually interim is a period of the school year where academics and class preparation take a back seat to relaxing, partying, and socializing. It is the one time in the Wofford school year where students can sit back and do very little. Clinical Internships, however, were very different; my days were spent waking early to meet physicians at their practices or hospitals, and going home when they went home (which is usually after 5 or 6pm). Over the period of the month, shadowing 5 days a week, I think the average student amassed over 120 hours in clinical settings. The experience was invaluable, however, and convinced me that a career in medicine would be fulfilling, worthwhile, and suitable for my gifts and strengths.
I’ll never forget on my first day of shadowing: in the Pediatrics ER. The most serious thing I saw all day was a child with a broken arm (most children in the ER were brought in for tummy-aches or runny noses, it seemed), but the doctor I worked with left me with some wise words. He told me that not everyone was capable of being a doctor, and if I was capable, I should consider it more seriously, because the capability to pursue a career in medicine is a blessing.
Over that next month, I got to witness some amazing doctors practicing some amazing medicine. Watching both vaginal deliveries and a caesarean section of TWINS was eye-opening to me of how amazing our bodies are, and how amazing life is. Seeing infectious disease doctors with no fears for their own health, only dedication to their patients’ well-being and healing, showed me that the practice of medicine is truly an art. One of the most serious and life changing moments of my life was when I sat in with the surgeon explaining to a woman, with her family sitting alongside, that she had a enormous and malignant tumor that was seriously threatening her life, and that she would need swift and aggressive treatment if she was to be saved. Personal, powerful, and intelligent actions made by doctors to bring about healing persuaded me that a career in medicine was attainable and worthy of my time and effort.
So, my senior year when I returned from my semester abroad, I finally started the non-biology core courses required for medical school. In the spring of 2012, I embarked upon my hardest semester at Wofford… Organic Chemistry II, at the same time as a legendarily hard Anatomy course. During that same semester, my beloved Granddaddy unexpectedly passed away after being admitted into the ER only 6 hours earlier, after over 45 minutes of failed resuscitation attempts. His death took me by such surprise that I doubted what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be. He was such a grounded figure in my life, always offering me direction and support. Did I really want to practice medicine at all? Did I really want to feel responsible if I ever lost a patient, or, worse, if my humanity ever allowed me to be negligent? I had more than one doubt about why I should keep memorizing anatomy, and reactions, and science…

Graduation that following May was bittersweet- leaving the comfort of college, your best friends (many who are also attempting to enter the medical field), your supportive professors, and relative lack of responsibilities is scary. Especially when you aren’t sure of the next steps you should take in life.

That fall, I was blessed with a position teaching Environmental Education at Barrier Island on Seabrook Island, SC.  A loving Christian community surrounded me in a beautiful, healing, place, and it was there I was able to re-examine my priorities, plans for the future, and even my years in college.  Teaching children came easy for me- I enjoy explaining complex ideas to people, and children require such simplicity that I was able to sharpen my communication skills.
The day after I taught my first class I took my MCAT in Charleston. The results took about a month, and really weren’t what I was hoping for. My strong background in biological sciences and organic prepared me well for the biological section, but on the physical section I struggled. The immense feeling of failure when receiving a score lower than the one you need is just pure frustrating. I will admit, I wasn’t studying those last few weeks during my job training as I should have been, and it was all my fault that I didn’t score higher, but it still felt like a reason to give up on medical school. Not doing well that September meant having to wait a whole extra year to apply, and I was in such an unnecessary hurry, the thought of that just frustrated me even more. So, I stopped thinking about medical school. I threw myself into the job I loved, teaching kids about science and the world around them, and started brewing up other ideas. Nursing school seemed to be the simplest route to get me into the medical field. Or there was always a becoming Physicians Assistant, or Anesthesia Assistant, or Occupational therapist… the options seemed endless, but I have to admit, never truly satisfying.
At the end of the school year, this past May, I moved with my boyfriend to Jackson, Wyoming, for the summer season. We each were placed in seasonal positions, back in dormitory housing. It is obvious to me (writing from my dormitory now) that I have grown a lot in the last year since my college graduation. I am no longer as enthusiastic to party and socialize as I was in college, instead preferring to read or enjoy some quiet time. College was a big distraction for me from my studies, and as a young adult I realize that I needed a little time to grow out of my partying tendencies. I am in a much better place to enter into any academic setting, especially one as rigorous as medical school.

Those reasons culminate to the point of my whole rambling- I will be attending medical school soon, hopefully in Saint Martin at American University of the Caribbean. The purpose of this blog is to not only keep my regular blog readers updated (who am I kidding?... this is only my parents and grandmother), but to also shed light on what this experience looks like from my perspective- young, southern, female, Christian, in-a-relationship, science lover. I will be honest about my experiences, I will try and explain the whole process as I participate in it, and I will share my own struggles along the way.