A Reflection on Privilege (and other life updates)

In this season of gratitude, I have been thinking quite a bit about privilege. So much of what I’m grateful for is intertwined with the privileges I have. Having the opportunity to attend medical school to having a support system are two big privileges I am especially grateful for this year.

More recently, I realized what a privilege it is to expect to come home during Thanksgiving break. I didn’t think much about how expensive flights were, simply because my parents offered to cover my travel expenses. It wasn’t until a friend told me that she wasn’t going home because of costs (although her plane tickets were probably half the cost of mine) when I really checked my privilege.

I am (re)learning that it is a privilege to never have money be the sole deciding factor for my major (and minor) life decisions. I thought I learned this lesson when I lived in Baltimore, but I clearly forgot. While I did book my tickets back in August, I know regardless of how expensive tickets were then, I would have still decided to fly home, simply because I needed wanted to.

This sounds and is incredibly selfish, but it’s true. I’m fortunate to have generous parents who pay for pricey plane tickets just so their daughter can come home for three days. I am aware of friends who use their precious free time to work during med school and some who are working this Thanksgiving break to make extra money. I feel a mix of inspiration and guilt when I think about this.

Maybe it was important for my parents to have me home for Thanksgiving or maybe they would have been okay if I decided to not come home…I don’t think I’ll ever know.

I’m so grateful to have escaped cold mid-west weather for a few days, see friends from home, and eat delicious Japanese food with my parents. I’ve never been so excited to see the sun and for the weather to be in the 60’s. I’m grateful for the afternoon I spent laying by my window to absorb every little ray of sunshine to last me through the next five months of winter. I’m grateful to be able to go outside in a light jacket and see trees with leaves still attached to them.

The pizza I devoured after my final.

Maybe I could have waited to come home until Christmas break, but knowing that I was going home is what motivated me to get through finals. It’s important for me to have things to look forward to, such as a trip home, phone calls with friends and family, Pizza Fridays, and bi-weekly trips to Trader Joe’s. Right before finals, I went to an orientation to volunteer at a clinic, so I’m hoping I can start going once every other week or so. It’s easy to lose track of days and weeks when I’m all the time and I’m putting in more of an effort to not be studying 24/7, simply because it isn’t efficient nor healthy. There was one occasion when I asked my tutor what day of the week it was because my monotonous days of studying were blurring together. I’m working on not letting that happen again.

If I took away anything from this semester, it’s that I can take a few hours off here and there and still pass my courses. I still need to study a ton, but taking a break to Facetime my brother a few days before an exam isn’t going to make me fail. In fact, it’s refreshing to be able to talk about something other than studying or medicine. It’s easy to find myself in a bubble and any form of connection to the “real world” grounds me and help me maintain some level of sanity.

I survived my third set of exams and preparing for them was not as stressful as preparing for my second set of exams. I’m relieved (and SO happy) to share that I passed anatomy and that I’ll be starting my new block on Monday.

Passing anatomy truly was a team-effort. While people say that I was the one putting in the work, I had a lot of help (academic and emotional support) from tutors, professors, friends, and mentors. “I’ll cross that bridge if I have to” is a new mantra I repeat to myself whenever I start worrying about failing an exam. While it’s hard to not worry about the outcome (aka, my grades), my mentor (and a few others) also reminded me that my fears rarely become my reality. In other words, my gut feeling and thoughts are terrible predictors of how I actually perform on exams.

I’m not ready to fly back tomorrow and I definitely don’t feel ready to start classes again on Monday. At the same time, I know that the longer I stay in California, the harder it would be for me to leave. It comforts me to know that I’ll be back home again in a month for winter break and meanwhile, I’ve put together a small list of things to look forward to until then. I requested Michelle Obama’s Becoming from my university’s library, have plans to see the Christmas lights (and maybe visit the zoo!) downtown with a friend, and explore local, cute coffee shops. I also have a few catch-up phone calls scheduled with friends next week, so I’m choosing to look forward to those, in an attempt to take my mind off about worrying about the upcoming block.

I’m still waiting for the moment when being a med school feels right. I’m still figuring out how to make the city I’m in my home. I’m learning how to articulate my opinions to peers who may not share my beliefs and views. I’m still looking for my people; people who are passionate about integrating the practice of medicine with social justice and service.

So much of me wants to fit in and belong, but a part of me thrives from not quite belonging anywhere.

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