Posted on behalf of Liz Timoszyk.
Like many native Michiganders, I have yet to travel to Texas during my 23 years here in our cozy mitten state. It’s not that I have anything against Texas– it’s just that I don’t have any family there, and I haven’t had a specific reason to travel there on my limited college student budget. However, upon learning about an opportunity to go to Texas to contribute my time to important public health efforts, I jumped at the chance. Spring break in sunny Southern Texas? Yes please! A chance to practice public health in the field? Double yes! Perfect, right? Well, not exactly—there’s a lot more to it than that. The more I’ve learned about the Rio Grande Valley, its cultural and social norms, and its specific health challenges, the more I’ve realized I may feel like a fish out of water. The population demographic is drastically different from what I’ve known. Spanish is the predominant language, and Mexican culture reverberates through the everyday life in this region. All of this excites me, as I will learn things I don’t even know that I don’t know. However, there are so many unknown aspects to this journey and I can’t help but feel a little anxious. The unknown is scary; the best I can do is prepare to be unprepared as I enter this new culture. How am I going to feel when I make my first trek out into a community that clearly recognizes me as an outsider? How will I recognize situations that I am coming into with biases, and how will I be able to overcome them and fully immerse myself into the local perspective? Right now, I don’t know how I’ll do these things—and that’s okay, because I won’t know until I experience them. The important part is that I recognize that I’ll be that fish out of water, and that in the meantime, I can prepare to be unprepared.