By Shalini Subbarao
No, I'm not pregnant.
But I am expecting—expecting a lot from this experience. And there are always things that you need to be cautious about when you have expectations or when others have expectations for your experience.
When I applied to the Honduras SRT program, I was looking for an experience that would give me a better perspective of the health inequities that we learn about in class and allow me to collect information that could be used to understand the situation better and form an intervention program. That's how it seemed to work in all the case studies we read about. I chose Honduras specifically because I liked the clinical aspect to it and I would love to practice my Spanish more!
As the semester went on, the program started to mold into a health-oriented volunteer program: providing a service to the clinic, but not really collecting any data that would be useful to analyze. That definitely bummed me out a little, but also opened my eyes to a more realistic perspective of global health work. There is no doubt in my mind that I will have an amazing experience doing vision screenings for the kids on the island and glaucoma testing for the adults and that our work will improve the quality of life for a lot of residents. I just have to change my expectations. Not lower them in any way. Just change them.
Not only did I have expectations for my program, other people had expectations for it, too. One mention that I was going to Honduras in the summer and almost everyone said something like "Ooooh, that's gonna be so much fun!" or "That will be a nice, relaxing break for you!" and then of course the Google images of Roatan looks absolutely magical. These competing expectations of providing healthcare for communities that really need it and living on a beach in a hugely touristy destination make it really hard to know what to expect. Tourist locations highlight their money and hide their problems. I don't want to get caught in this illusion before I even get there. I also want my experience to be more than volunteering tourism. Much more. I'm not going to Honduras because it's exotic and exciting, but because I think global experiences open your eyes to new cultures, ideas, and opinions and broaden your view on the world. And more importantly, this program is not about me, but about the people I can help because the Duke SRT program funded this project.
In the end, I think it's pointless to think too much about expectations because I can make my experience literally whatever I want it to be. I plan to immerse myself in the community as much as possible and hopefully be a tourist on the island at least a couple times ;) And I'm really glad I have 3 other awesome Duke students to share this experience with!