What a week we’ve had!
Sunday was a long day (but also a good one!). I’m used to getting up early but 2:30am was a little extreme, even for me. We started the day with a 5:45am flight to Dallas and arrived at the McAllen airport around noon. The first thing I noticed? The wonderful, warm breeze as we left the airport. As a perpetually cold individual, a week of 80-degree days is exactly what I needed after a couple months of winter in Michigan. After dropping our things off at the hotel and a quick meeting we left for South Padre Island. We enjoyed a walk on the beach and a really fresh seafood dinner. What a great way to start off the week!
Monday morning we piled into the van and made our way to the university we would be working at. We had a brief orientation and learned more about the university and the project. We then had the amazing opportunity to speak with Mr. Eduardo Olivarez, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Hidalgo County Health Department. What an engaging conversation! Mr. Olivarez spoke with us about everything from the interesting cases of disease in the county (who knew Leprosy and Tuberculosis were such a problem in southern Texas?!) to the unique community dynamics between Hidalgo county and border communities in Mexico. It was apparent that he is so passionate about the work he does, the work we all hope to do after graduation. Mr. O, are you hiring? 🙂
We then had the amazing opportunity to attend a binational working conference on Zika virus as guests of Mr. O. Representatives from both Mexico and Texas met to discuss the current state of Zika along the border and determine next steps. All attendees were given headphones and a translator as some talks were given in English and others in Spanish. We learned about different species of mosquitos from a Texas State Public Health Veterinarian, the clinical presentation of Zika (as well as Dengue fever and Chikunguyna) from a Mexican physician, and the Mexican response to a (relatively) recent dengue outbreak from a Mexican Epidemiologist. It was incredible seeing the collaboration between health officials from both sides of the border and how seamlessly they went back and forth between Spanish and English. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my (very rusty) Spanish listening skills!
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we were at a campus recruiting students to take our community health needs survey. Our group members took a couple different approaches – some wandered around campus recruiting students from all over and others stayed stationary. Liz and I took the stationary approach. We set up shop at an intersection of walking paths with some nice shade and a few benches. While it was a little nerve-racking at first, by the time we stopped for lunch we had quite the operation going! To be honest, I was really nervous about this portion of our project. Our goal was to collect 450 surveys in 2 ½ days. Impossible, right? Apparently not. The students were absolutely amazing! Everyone was so willing to take the time to complete our survey and if they didn’t have time to complete it at the moment they asked when they could come back. Who knew that the availability of pens and clipboards would be the limiting factor?!