A Place to Belong

10298291_10153953305326800_2567324223819900032_oJohn Lennon said, “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” All anyone really wants from life is happiness and a place to belong.  The intersection between happiness and the career path one chooses is unclear. In a month I will be graduating and released into the “real world”.  As I apply for jobs and plan out the next stage of my life I have struggled to find the intersection between happiness and the career I choose.  I question daily where I belong in the world and in the field public health. There are some things that I do know such as I do not want to work in research or stay in Michigan after graduation.  I had always thought I wanted to work in global health but over the past year my place in global health is unclear as well. The PHAST Grenada spring break trip only furthered this confusion.

I could belong in Grenada.  The culture is vibrant, the communities are strong and supportive, and the people compassionate and easygoing. I have problems with anxiety and the United States is often too unforgiving, fast, and competitive for me.  Grenada is slower, calmer, and more supportive. Through my work this week I saw a use for my knowledge and skills in the needs of the Grenadian people. I saw a place I could belong but I am not Grenadian. I am a white American woman. As much as I would love to live and work in Grenada, I would always be seen as an American tourist who just stepped off the cruise ship.  And here lies the greatest dilemma that I face in global public health.  I do not have a community. I do have a geographic location that I am connected to, a religion, or a defined ethnicity. Community organizing stresses that change be defined and originate from within the community. Every community that I step into is not mine so as a public health practitioner where do I belong?

Joel Lamstein, the CEO of Jon Snow Inc. came to UMSPH this year and spoke about how global health is becoming a narrowing field. Global health used to be equated with boots on the ground work much like the Peace Corps.  Over time countries have found that it is more sustainable to train and employ their own people instead of bringing in consultants from Western countries.  Global health is now equated with technical capacity building like research and monitoring and evaluation neither of which I am very interested in.  So if you ask me what I want to be when I grow up, expect a confused and emotional answer such as the one just given. The core being that like everyone else in the world I want to belong and be happy and I just haven’t figured out what that means yet.

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