Rodzina

I was feeling quite good about the progress I was making on my dissertation and medical school apps, so in true Andrea-logic, I decided it would be a good idea to add another dose of adventure. Herein began my grand idea to plan a 12 day trip to one of my favorite spots in the world: Poland.

 

Between junior and senior year, I had the wonderful opportunity to study Polish language, history, and literature in Krakow. If you think Disney World has a touch of magic, then Tinker Bell must have dumped a whole bag of her dust on Krakow. Unlike many of it’s neighbors, Krakow was not bombed during WW2. Thus, the history is astonishingly well-preserved. Plus, the 14th century Wawel castle even includes a good dragon story. Win, win, win.

 

Despite these wonders that Krakow offers, northern Poland (Gdansk and surrounding areas) holds a larger part of my heart. It is from this region that my great-grandparents voyaged to the US with their two children (my Grandma Elizabeth Berkemeier’s oldest siblings) and whatever other material goods they could fit in their laundry-sized basket. There were no internet forums that provided insider details about the ‘American Dream’ or skype to call your family when you safely arrived. Just one way tickets and host of prayers.

 

Although the blood ties to Poland objectively grow more dilute with each passing generation, as I profess in my dissertation, my understanding of family… and parenting… and even life itself go beyond a DNA based-definition.

 

Z Bogiem i do zabaczenia,
Andrea xx

 

 

A small photo essay to share highlights of this visit:

 

 

 

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The Netherlands – Presenting preliminary research findings!

Back in March, I pursued an opportunity to present findings from my research at a symposium in the Netherlands that coming August. As with most of my adventures, I planned to add some pleasure to this business trip.

Pleasure:

I have a fair amount of stamps from the Netherlands in my passport (thank you Delta / KLM transfers) but this was the first time I left the airport. I spent most of my time in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I also skipped over to Den Haag for a solid 40 hours. See captions below for a quick overview:

Business:

I’ve struggled with putting pen to paper on this topic for quite some time because, in short, the story is complicated. For the sake of a blog post, I figured the best way to succinctly share is to publish a short response I submitted for a secondary medical school application.

Discuss a time when you stepped out of your comfort zone. What were the challenges? What did you learn?

In August, I had my first opportunity to travel to the Netherlands. International travel always presents challenges, but this trip in particular pushed me out of my comfort zone: I was attending the International Symposium for Young Adults with von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) as both a patient and a professional, presenting my dissertation research on reproductive counseling for young VHL-positive people.

During introductions, we were encouraged to share our current “VHL challenge”; I met people like T who had traveled 30+ hours by train, because his current post-operative instructions barred him from flying. I was moved by my peers’ courageous stories, simultaneously feeling blessed and self-conscious of NOT having the token scar along the nape of my neck indicative of brain surgery. I was shaken from these inner reflections when K shared her concerns that VHL would be incompatible with having children. Trying to offer help, the symposium coordinator singled me out as a “subject matter expert”. I flushed.

I enjoy public speaking, but presenting as both a patient and researcher quickened my heart rate. I was confident in my research, but the topic of reproduction is nevertheless sensitive. My presentation increased the awkward gap between the participants and me until I finished an interactive presentation with a silenced audience. Later that evening, participants began to approach me individually, sometimes with a reflective statement, technical questions, philosophical musings, or a quiz about my personal views. More commonly, however, they greeted me with positive encouragement: we are really appreciative to hear this from a VHL-positive person like you who not only knows her stuff but truly GETS it. As a physician, balancing authoritative knowledge with empathetic care will be a persistent challenge, but I know the more I practice navigating this awkward tension, the better I will be able to serve my patients.

A slide from the presentation before mine. This supports one of the findings of my research: adoption is a

A slide from the presentation before mine. This supports one of the findings of my research: adoption is a “forgotten” option.