Coming home from Morocco was a mixture of culture shock and déja vu. Sitting in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, I was surrounded by reminders of my journey home from having spent a year studying abroad in Lille, France- Haribo gummy bears, the irresistible La Durée macaroon stand, and an inescapable bittersweetness. As I sat in the terminal waiting for our boarding call, I realized that I had made the same trip almost a year ago. This time around, I wasn’t sitting alone in the airport terminal crying at the thought of eating my last croissant in France. This time, I was dry-eyed and comforted by a group of friends who were no more than strangers a month ago. This time, I didn’t shy away from the melancholy feeling that tends to accompany unwanted change. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude, awe, and pride as I joined my fellow Marauders on the plane that would take us home. We had successfully completed an incredible program together.
It is no small feat to step outside your comfort zone to navigate the intimidations that accompany living in a foreign country, from learning a new language, to abiding by alien cultural customs. That being said, my international experiences have been the most incredible venues for self-growth and learning. The Maternal and Infant Health program in Morocco was one of the richest cultural learning experiences of my life. The interdisciplinary nature of the program ensured that we were exposed to Morocco from many different angles and saw varying perspectives of health and aid. As a freshly graduated student from McMaster’s Arts & Science program, I am a strong advocate for seeing the “big picture.” The health of Morocco’s population isn’t a simple matter of the science behind medical procedures, the education level of its people, or the infrastructure of its cities and villages, but a blended combination of many social determinants of health. The program gave us the “big picture” of a population’s health: it requires collaboration, cooperation and solidarity in order to ensure the health of the population regardless of religion, gender, sexual or political orientation. Of course, implementing such an interdisciplinary approach is not easy, but the first step is changing perspective. This is an invaluable lesson that each of us brought home with us, and will likely work to promote through whatever career path we choose to pursue- law, social work, medicine, politics, public health, etc.
While I also brought home a broadened and more culturally competent mind when I returned from studying abroad in France, I found the culture shock very difficult to overcome for the first few months that I was back in Canada. Not only did I miss my friends, my newfound lifestyle and the French culture, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had lost something. It took me a while to realize that, other than my wallet which was stolen in Barcelona (long story), I had only gained from my year abroad- knowledge, friends, and an awareness of different points of view. So, as the plain touched down in Toronto’s Pearson Airport, I felt a peaceful confidence wash over me. I had not lost anything by returning home. I had gained a strong-willed purpose and direction to work towards a more inclusive and interdisciplinary public health system in Canada, and abroad.