As are some people in global health, I confess sometimes I am a little inured about travel. Plane travel has gone from thrilling adventure to physical gauntlet. And yes, I understand how much of a first-world problem and humble-brag that is, too. “Poor me, having to travel the world!”
That certainly wasn’t always the case. The prospect of traveling, especially to a new place, used to be more exhilarating and reminded me how lucky I was, how grateful I was for the opportunities that lay ahead. So, I became spoiled and had forgotten the newness of it all.
During early trips that I spent as a chaperone for students or in my own research, that exhilaration turned to empathic shock and despair. I experienced despair at the social injustice characterized by a lack of health care for the world’s poor. Despair became a clarion to action, and resolve. My global experiences became a drive, an inner locomotive that impelled me to act in new ways. I suspect this is not an uncommon emotional pathway for many who work in global health.
So, I acted and I continue to strive to change those injustices, and I’m very grateful for a lot of things around this fight. I am grateful for a cause and purpose. I am grateful for the resources that help me do my work. I am grateful for all of my colleagues around the world who share a vision. One thing for which I am grateful is when I am reminded of the enthusiasm toward traveling to see the world and having an impact on it. Every time I take people on their first trip to the developing world, I am reminded of that moment of ignition for me.
Going global for students, faculty, and healthcare providers is more than just ignition and empathy, though. It teaches us many things. Global healthcare should not be thought of as a form of colonialism where developed economies have all the answers. Genius is everywhere and learning from travels always ends up being a two-way street. That is another thing about which I need to remain mindful; it is not about me and enduring plane trips. I am very grateful for all the education my friends and colleagues around the world have given to me and many others.
Global health experiences can be about turning our education, ignition, and gratitude into action wherever we find opportunities, including in our own community. It can be as much about what to do when you return, not just when you are away.
That is the theme of an event sponsored by the Marquette Forum, MGHC, and Medical College of Wisconsin Office of Global Health coming up on November 30th. The title of the event is “When You Return,” and you can sign up for it here. Community health care providers, students, and representatives from MGHC members are going to get together and convert enthusiasm into ideas that will lead to action here in Milwaukee. It will be an interactive workshop to meet others and share ideas. Please consider coming.
Lars Olson is Associate Professor and Interim Joint Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University. He is also the founder of the Human Powered Nebulizer Program.