Residues of my first semester at Mailman: Sticky Notes and Inspiration

By Elburg van Boetzelaer, MPH’15 in Population and Family Health with a certificate in Public Health & Humanitarian Assistance

It’s snowing when I return to the U.S. after spending my winter break in the Netherlands. I’m sitting at my desk, surrounded by books, files, and handwritten notes: residues of my first semester at Mailman.

While attending lectures during my first semester and trying to take in the abundance of information, I got into the habit of writing down remarkable facts, numbers, and percentages on colored sticky notes, then sticking them to the wall above my desk.

 

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A random selection of facts I deemed noteworthy: “the poorest countries account for 56% of the global disease burden;” “deaths in low-intensity conflict states are often not due to violence, but are preventable;” and “the number one cause of death for children is diarrheal disease and can be prevented by effective water and sanitation efforts.”

It makes for a depressing wall, but glancing over that collection of posts encourages me to keep reading, studying, and writing, even when it’s past midnight and my brain is starting to show signs of overload. Those facts are the reason I decided to apply to the program of Forced Migration.

After earning a master’s degree in criminology from the University of Amsterdam, I moved to Southeast Asia where I spent three years working in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Cambodia. I worked for child protection organizations, mainly focusing on the elimination of the sexual exploitation of children around the globe. While I loved my work and fieldwork in general, I realized that, in order to grow and contribute in a more meaningful way to the field of child protection, I had to acquire practical skills that my criminology degree did not cover.

My decision to apply to Mailman’s Program on Forced Migration and Health was easy; the GRE proved to be more challenging. Somehow, I managed to brush up my high school math skills, pass the test, and submit my application before the deadline. Then the waiting began. Finally, in March, while riding a tuktuk through the center of Phnom Penh on a hot and dusty afternoon, I received the email saying that I was accepted to Mailman! I was screaming, yelling, laughing, and crying at the same time. Poor tuktuk driver; he must have been shocked by the amount of noise a petite blonde can produce.

The end of August was the big move. After living in Asia for years, feasting on rice and noodles, it was time to exchange life in a variety of polluted cities for life in The Big Apple, where I would feast on hamburgers and mac and cheese. I was ready for a new adventure and excited to become part of the class of 2015.

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And now here I am, looking at the snow outside of my window, thinking about the past months at Mailman and in New York. I’ve been challenged by professors, fellow students, and the authors of the many articles I read. Studying at Mailman has been a unique experience. Being taught by professors who combine teaching with ground-breaking research, while also being involved in the field, is such an honor. With every lecture that passes, I feel I that I am gaining so much knowledge, awareness, and new insight. One of the classes that incorporates the material covered in lectures is Integration of Science and Practice. During weekly meetings in groups of 20 students led by a professor, we discuss public health case studies, and its ethical dilemmas and implications. A great way to interact with peer students, apply what I learned in class and form my own opinions regarding public health issues that impact our everyday life.

With the second semester starting, as nerdy as it may sound, I can’t wait for it to get into full swing. The first semester consisted of the Core, courses that every Mailman student takes, regardless of their department or certificate. But from now on, the courses I choose will be department and certificate specific. In the case of the program on Forced Migration, this means that I will take courses like Investigative Methods in Complex Emergencies and Child Protection in War and Disaster. Just typing the titles gets me so excited!

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This is what I came here for: soaking up all this knowledge, acquiring skills, learning from professors and students, and preparing myself for a professional life in the field of child protection and humanitarian assistance. I consider myself a very lucky person to be living my dream and to learn from the best. And I still have 1.5 more years of studying at Mailman in the program of Forced Migration ahead of me!

OutInTheCity

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