Hang-en cave

Hang-en cave
(credit: National Geographic)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

China: Take 2

It's getting to be crunch time right now. I'm leaving for China in basically 4 days to lead the second round of a global health field course. I led it last year (my posts from that are still on this blog), and I'm not going to lie, it was rough. It was my first time to China and my first time in a position of such authority for such a long time.

As a leader and a course organizer, the trip is your baby. You've spent months planning every detail and ironing out every glitch, and you want nothing more than people to enjoy it and learn from it.You carry every joy and every smooth moment and every bump and every complaint on your shoulders, and you feel responsible for everything that goes wrong, no matter what it is. I have no idea how teachers and moms do this all the time--I know I do a LOT of things that "were a good idea at the time" that magically worked out (h/t guardian angel) but I was a nervous wreck last year...partly because of all the things I've done.
(credit: Mladen Bielicki)
As a teacher, or a parent, how do you trust that your kids will make good decisions or bounce back from their bad ones? Or how do you know when you've taught them everything you can and it's not your fault if they don't learn it? How do you just...let go?

Is there a class on this in education school?

Anyway, that's something that I'm going to be working really hard on this trip. Nobody got killed or thrown in jail or in too much trouble last year...I was a wreck the entire time thinking that someone would get stuck by themselves somewhere in Shanghai with no way to contact me, but it never happened.

I am so excited for this year's trip. Seriously. You have no idea. I LOVE to travel, and new cultures are seriously the best. Part of the reason I am so excited to go into public health is because I love to look at a person and find out what shaped them--and culture is obviously a huge influence on somebody.

China is so strange compared to America. There are people everywhere, and apartment buildings go as far as you can see to try and house all the people. Shanghai has a population of 24 million people, and Beijing has a population of 18 million. By comparison, Chicago has 7 million--that's the size of Shanghai's migrant population. A city the size of Chicago moves in and out of Shanghai every. single. year. It's mind-blowing.
And the food is so different. Last year, we laughed in the first restaurant we ate at when we saw this on the menu:

...and then we saw things like these:

Like, whoa. I ate boar stomach and jellyfish and sea slugs and caterpillars and a goose head at one point. And now I get to gross tons of people out when I regale them with my culinary adventures. The architecture is phenomenal, too--a lot of the more historical buildings are filled with really intricate woodwork and carvings.

Last year, I had two rules for my students in China: one was based on my own experience as a study abroad students, and the other was based on Mulan, which was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of Chinese culture (I'm terrible, I know). But they worked out pretty well! This year, I have a new addition to my rules for China:

1a) Don't do dumb things.
1b) Don't jump off a mountain to make a wish come true.
2) If the Huns invade, fire the dragon cannon at the mountain.

I think all of this will suffice for our trip: I'll add in things as necessary, but the students seem pretty great. We're doing the same program as last year, talking about how to provide healthcare to all 24 million of those people in Shanghai while shadowing at hospitals around the city. Another interesting aspect is the huge difference between being a physician in the United States and being a physician in China. In China, at least from what I observed and hear from the physicians is that it's not a very well-respected profession--patients often argue with their doctors and blame them for failed treatments, and physicians make a mid-level salary--and physicians very, very rarely get the emotional feedback of establishing a doctor-patient relationship or even being able to see that they helped their patient during their five-minute appointment, since they typically don't see them ever again. Would you still want to be a physician under those conditions? Some students last year struggled with the question. I'm interested to see how the students react this year. How about if you add in the dimension of violence? In 2010, there were something like 17,000 violent attacks against physicians. (If you want to learn more, the Lancet has a good article here  and the Wall Street Journal here). A lot of the things we'll see will force the students to consider what is crucial to patient care, how to provide high quality care to an incredible patient load, and what effects policy reform and the government can have on the health of citizens.

I'm excited to take all of them (and you guys) on this journey! I hope I'll have some good stories to share with you along the way.

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