Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.
“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.” Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910.
When I chose to travel to Costa Rica to learn about tropical medicine the summer after my sophomore year, I expected to learn all about infectious diseases and their pharmaceutical treatments. Without realizing it, I carried around many cultural biases and ignorant assumptions. I thought we, the educated Americans, could save lives simply by introducing science around the world. My understanding of global health lacked a key element–intercultural partnership.
While I did learn about vaccines and antibiotics in Costa Rica, I also learned that health-care answers exist outside the paradigm of Western medicine. Having lived in Indiana my whole life, my knowledge of traditional healing practices was limited to outdated stereotypes of witch doctors and shamans. In short, I was ignorant. This all changed when I visited a public clinic located in an area primarily populated by the indigenous Ngobe people. The clinic was serviced with a medical doctor alongside a traditional Ngobe healer, which increased trust of the clinic within the community. I also spoke with a Ngobe midwife about her practices. With the closest hospital miles away and a lack of viable transportation methods, she is the primary obstetric specialist in the community. These experiences opened my eyes to the importance of understanding and collaborating with other cultures.
The next summer, I put this new way of thinking into action when I interned at Timmy Global Health, which helps provide access to medical care within underserved communities in South America. While Timmy sends volunteer medical brigades to these areas, it also makes a concerted effort to partner with local organizations. When I traveled to Ecuador, I met several of Timmy's health promoters, women within the communities who publicized clinic days and helped distribute medications in exchange for microloans to start their own businesses. The efforts of these women were crucial to Timmy's mission of providing continuous care. I was especially impressed by one woman who used her microloan to start a community garden. She explained to us that as well as becoming an important source of food, this garden provided a gathering space for women in a community plagued by domestic violence. As I spoke with her, it struck me that no foreign aid worker would ever be able to come up with that idea.She knew what her community needed more than we ever could. We weren't in Ecuador to save anyone; we were there to help.
We must care about the beliefs and opinions of those we are trying to help instead of dismissing what we do not know. Behind ignorance of the other lies a disturbing cultural arrogance and a desire to be the hero out of self-interest. I was not immune to this attitude, but my experiences in Costa Rica and Ecuador led to a profound shift in my thinking. To help is to care, and to care is to listen. We must sacrifice our egos and our savior complexes in order to be true helpers.
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