Caroline King: Last semester travels

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

Whack! I wake up groggily as my head bounces off the window of our Jeep, and we drive over a hole in the road. I would use the word “pothole,” but that would imply the road we’re driving on is paved. I look down to check my watch, and it’s almost 6 a.m. Nepal time, which means it’s 8 p.m. in Providence.

I can picture my friends working in the SciLi basement, or perhaps more realistically, taking a study break at home since it’s the Wednesday of Spring Week on campus. Meanwhile in Acham, Nepal, the physician I’m traveling with and I are part of a four-car ambulance caravan transporting eight critically ill patients to a referral hospital 12 hours away in Nepalgunj, Nepal. Six patients were injured the night before in a jeep accident, one was injured in a fall, and one has a pericardial effusion that has filled his chest with fluid. With 10,000 miles between Nepalgunj and Providence, I couldn’t be farther from my friends, my home of four years, my teammates, my campus. Yet, I wouldn’t be sitting in this Jeep without my experience at Brown.

Rewind nine months. I’m surfing on Banner in a class I’m shopping, playing with my course schedule, trying to figure out how my remaining five courses, only one of which is required, will play out over the next year. Screw it, I think, I’m taking one class senior spring, and it’s gonna be VISA 0100: “Studio Foundation.” I type in my four courses for the fall and register.

Simultaneously, I’m watching a YouTube video of Medicines Sans Frontiers physician James Orbinski’s Nobel Peace Prize speech. It’s probably the 30th time I’ve watched or read it ­— the first time in high school — and I’m as compelled as ever.

Orbinski shares a phrase, “Ummera-sha,” which roughly translates to “courage, friend.” This is what I should be doing my senior spring, I think to myself. I start Googling in a frenzy,  come across and click it.

Nyaya Health is a Boston-based public-private partnership with the Nepal government that works to deliver health care to the rural, impoverished poor in Far Western Nepal. When I first visited their blog, I read for two-and-a-half hours. I was compelled by their messages of social justice and commitment to realizing the right to health care in a post-revolution setting. I had to know more. I found out that their executive director was speaking at a conference in Boston on global health, and a friend and I traveled up to Boston to listen. I came back fired up for action. In the following weeks, I contacted professors at Brown and leadership at Nyaya to see if I might be able to both work for Nyaya and use an internship as an Academic Internship course credit at Brown in the spring.

What Brown gave me was ummera, courage — the courage to leave a place that I love with every fiber of my being for a place I had only read about. Courage to step into an organization whose impact is greater than the sum of its parts. Courage to throw myself into something wholeheartedly without turning back, knowing it might be a huge mistake — I might hate it or, worse, I might find myself apathetic.

As I write this now, back in the States, and 10,000 miles from Accham, I know that this courage will be as much of a necessity in my coming years as any tangible skill I’ve acquired over the past four years. It wasn’t until I stepped away from Brown that I was able to truly recognize this gift.

Caroline King is headed to the University of Pennsylvania this summer in spite of her allegiance to both Pittsburgh sports teams and the Brown Bears. She hopes to begin medical school in 2014.

Correction appended: An earlier version of this column incorrectly referred to Nyaya as a non-governmental organization. In fact, it is a joint public-private partnership with the Nepal government.